Kemba Walker has finally done it. After 28 winless tries as a member of the Charlotte Hornets, Walker has officially earned the first victory over a LeBron James-led team of his career in a 139-107 romp over the Los Angeles Lakers. That it came in his first game as a member of the Boston Celtics was fitting. For years he languished on Charlotte rosters that failed to surround him with proper talent.
But now, as a member of the Celtics, he is playing for a contender with as much star-power as any team in the league. This game proved that. The four leading scorers of the night all wore Celtics green. Jayson Tatum led the way with 27, while Walker and Jaylen Brown each poured in 20. Enes Kanter had 18, all in the first half. The Lakers, meanwhile, were led by JaVale McGee with 18, seven of which came in the final two minutes.
LeBron James was the Lakers' only source of offense for most of the night. While his 15 points left quite a bit to be desired, he created plenty of shots for teammates with 13 assists. The rest of his team had only nine, though, and no single player had more than three besides James. This has been a consistent problem for the Lakers. LeBron is their only true creator offensively.
Anthony Davis, meanwhile, was mostly ineffective in his return from a tailbone injury. He tallied only nine points and four rebounds in 23 minutes. Clearly, he is still a ways from 100 percent. The Lakers won't have much time to right the ship. They are headed to New York for a back-to-back against the Knicks and Nets, and while the opponents aren't too daunting, three games in four nights would tire out just about any team. Fortunately, the Lakers couldn't possibly play any worse than they did on Monday in what was without question their worst game of the season. With that in mind, here are the key takeaways from tonight's blowout.
The Lakers still need another ball-handler
The non-LeBron James Lakers had only nine assists, and that's hardly a freak occurrence. Rajon Rondo is second on the team with 5.4 assists per game but has so many other deficiencies that keeping him on the floor is a real chore for Frank Vogel. The Lakers are six points better per 100 possessions with Rondo off of the floor for the season. Since Dec. 15, that number jumps to 10.8 points per 100 possessions, with the Lakers actually being outscored with him on the floor.
It would be one thing if the Lakers at least had another guard who could score, but they still don't. Rondo led the guards with 13 points, but his shooting is so erratic that isn't reliable. No Laker guard averages double-digit points. On nights when either James or Davis struggle, the Lakers have virtually no other way of generating offense.
That was the case in this game. Davis, coming back from an injury, could only give the Lakers nine points on seven shots. Most contenders have backup plans for such nights. The Lakers don't. They ran largely the same offense and just hoped that LeBron alone could produce shots. Sure, they aren't going to shoot 7-for-26 on 3's every night, but the quality of the shots they got was so poor because the Lakers rely so heavily on just one player to produce them.
The Celtics, with everybody, are sorely underrated
The Celtics have dealt with so many (relatively) minor injuries that it's easy to forget how dominant they've been at full strength. Lineups featuring Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are outscoring opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions. That group started the season on a 7-1 tear and has barely been seen since, but as tonight proved, when the Celtics have their entire roster available, they can compete with just about anyone.
Fortunately for Boston, assuming they can keep that core on the floor, things are about to get a good deal easier. Seven of their next nine games are against teams below .500, and they don't have another back-to-back before the All-Star break. They trail the Miami Heat for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference by only 1.5 games, so they'll have a chance to make a real run with their whole team intact over the next couple of weeks.
The Lakers have a rebounding problem
The Lakers lost the total rebounding battle 48-to-36, but where they really got killed was on the defensive end. The Celtics managed to snare 14 offensive rebounds. On paper, that makes absolutely no sense. The Lakers are one of the NBA's biggest teams, and the Celtics are one of its smallest. Statistically speaking, though, this points to a much bigger problem the Lakers have had all year. They are currently ranked 22nd in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate, pulling in only 72.3 percent of opposing misses.
Some of this makes a shred of sense. Yes, the Lakers have a three-headed monster up front in Davis, McGee and Dwight Howard, but their guards are quite small and they prioritize transition whenever possible. This is especially true of Anthony Davis. He is averaging single-digit rebounds per game for the first time since his rookie year at least in part because the Lakersfor him.
But some of this is unacceptable and based on poor play. The Lakers are ranked 21st in the NBA with only 13 boxouts per game, and they have the lowest defensive box-out rate in the NBA. Alex Caruso has the fourth-best contested rebounding rate on the roster, but without better box-outs from the bigs, the rest of their guards are virtually useless in most rebounding situations.
Playing with two big men on the floor creates a lot of problems offensively. One of the tradeoffs to shooting less 3-pointers is supposed to be better rebounding numbers. The Lakers haven't capitalized on their size in that manner, and tonight's game was a new low for them in that regard.