You'd be forgiven for thinking you were watching a playoff game in February, but that's exactly what we got as the Los Angeles Lakers edged the Boston Celtics 114-112 in a thriller at STAPLES Center.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 61 points, 21 rebounds, 12 assists, while Jayson Tatum poured in a career-high 41 points.
Here are the key takeaways from tonight's game:
AD and LeBron overpower Celtics
Anthony Davis led the line for the Lakers with 32 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks, while James recorded a near triple-double of 29 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds in the win.
The playoff-like atmosphere brought out everybody's best and when Jaylen Brown's three-pointer with 1:17 remaining put the Celtics up 110-108, James responded with a clutch fadeaway with 30.4 seconds to go, giving the Lakers a 111-110 lead.
LeBron James fades away to put LAL back in front!@celtics 110@Lakers 111- NBA (@NBA) February 23, 2020
12.3 left on ABC pic.twitter.com/8V2EnlLsIE
The devestating pick-and-roll combo was in full force as the Lakers attacked the smaller Celtics inside, with Davis feasting at the rim, hauling in six offensive rebounds, two less than the entire Celtics roster managed.
While the Lakers' star duo did the bulk of the damage, they got plenty of help off the bench, with Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo chipping in on both sides of the ball.
An energised Rondo, playing against his former team, turned into 'playoff Rondo' at times, facilitating the offence, but more impressive was his work on the defensive end.
He recorded five steals to go with five assists and four points, while Kuzma added 16 points and Howard 10 points and seven rebounds.
Rondo VISION! 👀@celtics 26@Lakers 32- NBA (@NBA) February 23, 2020
📺: #NBAonABC pic.twitter.com/E6kFOxmM55
Jayson Tatum has arrived
The Celtics forward has put together an impressive season to date, especially over the past 15 games, but today's test against the Western Conference-leading Lakers showed Tatum simply isn't afraid of the moment, emerging a 'the guy' for the Celtics.
Tatum tied his career-high 41 points on an efficient 12-of-20 from the field, 4-of-7 from the three-point line, and 13-of-15 from the three-throw line.
The 21-year-old is averaging 30 points per game in the month of February.
Jayson Tatum, last 8 games:- StatMuse (@statmuse) February 23, 2020
47 3P% pic.twitter.com/ZhPupgaVsC
With Kemba Walker missing his second-straight game with a knee injury, Tatum seized control of the offence, getting his buckets either in the paint, from three of at the free-throw line, with his improved finishing around the rim on full display.
He made light work of the Lakers' perimeter defenders and even with Anthony Davis deployed on him at times, he still found ways to get his shots off.
👀 pic.twitter.com/lNXz1gpChr- Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 23, 2020
Lakers coach Frank Vogel sent double-teams his way in the second half, which went a long way to slowing him down, but there's no denying, Tatum is built for this.
A rivalry renewed
Is there a better rivalry in the NBA than the Lakers vs. the Celtics? The history between the two franchises is undeniable with the Celtics winning an NBA-best 17 championships, closely followed by the Lakers' 16.
The two franchises have met 12 times in the Finals, with the Lakers winning the most-recent edition in 2010 and the magnitude of the matchup is not lost on the current crop of players.
"We had the Captain Kareem Abdul Jabbar at our practice facility yesterday and he just talked about the rivalry itself and how much we should appreciate being a part of this rivalry and being a part of this legacy," James said post-game
Being a Laker, playing against the Celtics, just seeing all the battles they had all the way since the 50s to now, it's just an honour for me personally to be in a Laker uniform playing against a historic franchise like the Celtics and being with a historic franchise like the Lakers."
Celtics legend Bill Russell was in the house for this one, rocking a Kobe Bryant jersey in honour of the late Laker legend.
Basketball royalty in the house... @RealBillRussell courtside for @celtics/@lakers! #NBAonABC pic.twitter.com/49NGykabqt- NBA (@NBA) February 23, 2020
With the Lakers sitting atop the Western Conference and the Celtics currently third in the East, a 13th Finals matchup could well be on the way.
The Lakers (43-12) welcome another young superstar to STAPLES Center on Tuesday, with Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans in town for his first game against the Lakers.
Meanwhile, the Celtics (39-17) travel to Portland to take on the Damian Lillard-less Portland Trail Blazers.
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