The Boston Celtics and LA Lakers have the fiercest rivalry in the history of the NBA, originating in the 1960s when Elgin Baylor and Jerry West led the Lakers to consistent matchups against Bill Russell and the Celtics in the Finals. When they play today, they won’t be playing with as much pressure. The Celtics currently are fifth in the East, with a 10-7 record, while the Lakers are 14-6 and third in the West. Although COVID restrictions and procedures could limit both teams, this could finally be the titanic clash this fixture deserves. Here are three key matchups that could decide the fate of the game.
LeBron James has been unstoppable in Year 18. Despite the fact that James was initially expected to coast through the season, he has averaged 25.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists. Meanwhile, Tatum is averaging 26.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists, having missed five games due to COVID procedures. Both players are the stars of their respective teams, and will be expected to star for their teams when they face off. Tatum will not have an easy job getting past the King, but there is definitely a precedent. When the two teams last played, Tatum tied his career high of 41 points a game, although they lost. If Tatum can play to a similar level, and Jaylen Brown can put in the sort of performances he has been doing since the beginning of this year, then there is a very good chance they can win this one. On the other end, if LeBron can consistently hit deep shots like he has been doing this year, then it will be very hard to stop the Lakers, especially if Anthony Davis can finally hit his stride and play like he did against the Bulls.
Anthony Davis and Tristan Thompson
On paper, this matchup doesn’t make much sense. Davis is far better than Thompson and averages a double-double in games against Thompson. However, Davis could have a bit more trouble against Thompson today. While Thompson is normally partnered with pretty lackluster defenders when he plays against Davis, such as Kevin Love, he is now going to be able to have the support of a defender like Jaylen Brown, who can help alleviate his defensive load. If Thompson can protect the paint against Davis, who is just an inch taller than the 6-foot-9 Thompson, then the Celtics could pocket the second-best player on the Lakers. This is also especially opportune for Thompson since Davis is going through a rare poor run of form.
On the other end of the spectrum, this matchup could be perfect for the Lakers. If Davis can finally shake off the issues that have been plaguing him since the Finals ended and drop a 30-piece on Thompson’s head, then Davis definitely could lead the team to a famous victory over the Celtics. Davis is still not confirmed to play in the Celtics game, but even an injured Davis can make a massive difference.
Jaylen Brown and Dennis Schröder
Brown has been having a breakout year so far for the Celtics. Although he has been performing admirably for the Celtics throughout his career so far, he has been playing second fiddle to Tatum for the most part. However, he has been averaging 27.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists after playing in all 17 games for Boston this year. Meanwhile, Dennis Schroder has been quietly having a good season for the Lakers. Although he isn’t putting up All-Star numbers, Schroder is still averaging 13.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists, which is the third most points and second most assists this season for the Lakers. Since Kemba Walker is not a good enough defender to convincingly stop Schroder from having an influence on the game, it is likely that coach Brad Stevens will move Walker to cover the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Wesley Matthews, while Brown would cover the point guards the Lakers bring out. This matchup will be more favorable to the Celtics and could be the key to toppling the Lakers.
The Boston Celtics could use these matchups, which can help nullify three of the best players on the Lakers, and swing this game in their favor. Either way, this should be a very entertaining game.