LOS ANGELES — Unlike most of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates, Russell Westbrook grew up a Lakers fan who personally understood the yearly importance of their rivalry series with the Boston Celtics.
Leading a dominant victory over the Celtics while wearing the Lakers’ gold jersey for the first time clearly made for a special night for the veteran guard.
“As a player like myself, you want to make sure you approach all games the same while also understanding the significance of this particular game,” Westbrook said. “That makes it a good win for us.”
LeBron James scored 30 points, Westbrook added 24 points and 11 assists, and the Lakers beat the Celtics 117-102 on Tuesday night in the latest chapter of the NBA’s most storied rivalry.
Anthony Davis had 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Lakers, who produced one of their best recent performances in their fourth victory in six games overall. With James and Westbrook playing dominant floor games, Los Angeles made 56.5% of its shots in the first three quarters and throttled Jayson Tatum‘s supporting cast defensively.
“I just like the way we competed tonight on both sides of the floor,” James said. “We had a lot of intensity, a lot of ball movement. Guys were attacking the rim. I think defensively, besides the first 14-point avalanche on Tatum’s part, we locked in from that point forward.”
Tatum scored 14 of his 34 points in an incredible early first-quarter blitz for the Celtics, who dropped to 1-2 on their four-game West Coast trip. Jaylen Brown sat out his third straight game with a strained right hamstring, and nobody else managed more than Robert Williams III’s 13 points for Boston.
“I feel like our energy was great, especially starting off the game,” Williams said. “We just weren’t ready for the punch in the second half, so we’ve got to clean it up. … We tend to lay back and get comfortable when the game is going our way, and it’s something we need to break.”
The Lakers got a much-needed comfortable victory in the 296th edition of the matchup between venerable franchises with a record 17 championships apiece and a record 12 NBA Finals meetings. Boston and Los Angeles split their season series 1-1 for the fifth straight campaign after the Celtics beat the Lakers last month behind Tatum’s 37 points.
Westbrook staked the Lakers to a 19-point lead in the third by scoring 15 points in the quarter with a series of dominant drives against whatever Boston guard had the bad luck to be matched up with him. After a tentative start with his hometown team, Westbrook is averaging 23.5 points, 8.9 assists and 6.9 rebounds in the Lakers’ last eight games.
“I think at the beginning of the year, Russ was a little bit passive,” Davis said. “He was trying to get guys involved, pass the ball. … We told him, `The more you’re aggressive, the more it will open up for everyone else.’ The last seven to 10 games, he’s been very, very aggressive, and when he does that, it opens up the floor for everyone else as far as shooting. He’s just been in attack mode. That’s why we brought him here, to be Russell Westbrook and not anybody else but that.”
The Lakers have lost seven games this season in which they held a double-digit lead, but Boston never applied fourth-quarter pressure in this one.
“We’re disappointed as far as we were outhustled, out-toughed a little bit,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said. “It hasn’t happened in a long time. They would put their head down, get to the basket and get whatever they wanted. We’re better than that defensively, but a lack of effort and a lack of toughness showed tonight.”
Tatum scored Boston’s first 14 points in the first 3:49, hitting four 3-pointers among his five shots without a miss. James kept the Lakers close with 16 points in the first quarter, and his assist to Westbrook right before the buzzer put Los Angeles up 60-55 at halftime.
Dennis Schroder struggled for the Celtics, scoring 10 points on 1-for-6 shooting before sitting out in the fourth quarter. He was also booed regularly in the first half by Lakers fans still insulted by the German guard’s handling of his free agency after his sole season with Los Angeles.
Schroder turned down an $84 million, four-year contract offer from the Lakers to test the market last summer, but he was forced to settle for a $5.9 million, one-year deal with Boston after finding nothing near the Lakers’ offer. Los Angeles also lost out because it traded Danny Green and a first-round pick to get Schroder, only to see him walk for nothing.