The Lakers began their season-high, seven-game road trip by winning three out of four, before an injury sidelined Anthony Davis.
Just in time, he returned to help his team avoid a third consecutive loss.
On his return to the lineup, Davis had 27 points and 14 rebounds and Los Angeles held on to beat the Boston Celtics 96-95 on Saturday night as Daniel Theis missed a follow-up shot at the buzzer.
In the first meeting of the season between the longtime rivals, LeBron James finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Montrezl Harrell scored 16 points for the Lakers, who lost a bruised right quadriceps in Detroit on Thursday as Davis rested.
“For me, personally, it’s getting back in attack mode.” Davis said, “Being aggressive. Crashing the offensive glass. Being in the paint. All those types of things. Everything that I did tonight.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the energy was completely different with Davis back on the floor.With Davis back on the court, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the mood was completely different. “He’s built up. He’s getting into that mode right now. He’s starting to pick it up. The injury set him back a little bit. … But we want him to be assertive. And when he’s assertive on both sides of the ball, we’re very difficult to beat.”
For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum finished with 30 points and nine rebounds. 28 points were added by Jaylen Brown. Out of its last seven, Boston has lost five.
Without Marcus Smart, who was helped off the court with what the team said was a left calf strain after a collision with Harrell underneath the basket, the Celtics played the final 10:28 of the game. Harrell tipped in a missed layup and, when he came down, stepped on Smart’s foot.
Smart crumpled to the tribunal. As trainers took him to the locker room, he was helped to his feet but could not put any pressure on his knee. In order to get the extent of the injury, an MRI is scheduled for Sunday.
Following the injury, the Lakers surged. With a 3-pointer with 5:25 to play, James broke an 85-all tie.
As high as 96-89, the lead grew. But Kemba Walker’s pair of free throws, Tatum’s jumper and James’ turnover brought life to the Celtics with 39 seconds left.
After a timeout, Boston got the ball to Tatum, who got a floater to go in to decrease the deficit to 96-95 and set up the final exchange. Walker kicked Davis’s jumper away and then missed the other end of the jumper. Theis swooped in but was unable to get the follow-up to fall.
“I like the shot that we got,” Brown said of Walker’s jumper. “We’ll take that 10 out of 10 times.”
Smart’s injury was the latest blow to a Boston lineup that was playing for only the second time this season with its expected starting lineup of Smart, Walker, Tatum, Brown and Theis. Walker missed the first 12 season games to recover from an operation on his left knee and Tatum missed several games with COVID-19 earlier this month.
In the third quarter, the Celtics recovered from an uneven start and outscored the Lakers 29-19 to take a 78-71 lead into the final period.
Boston gave the Lakers plenty of distinct defensive looks, including sending Davis several double-teams and using Theis and Robert Williams III’s double-big man lineup.
Theis has played some of the season’s best minutes, contributing on both ends of the court. In the third quarter, it included a set back dunk over Davis.
Yet their counterparts outscored the Lakers’ reserves 35-15. They did it with only Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso in a shortened group.
“I like the energy that they had,” Vogel said. “We’ve got a lot of depth, so we’ll continue to use it.”