It took Kemba Walker 29 tries, but after nine and a half seasons, one of UConn’s heroes finally beat the best basketball player to walk the planet.
James was 28-0 versus Walker until Monday night, which was second only to Michael Jordan’s 30-0 versus Sherman Douglas in terms of best head-to-head records of all time. Those games stretch among James’ time with the Heat, Cavaliers and Lakers, while Walker played for just the Charlotte Bobcats and Hornets franchise.
The more important takeaway from this game is that the Celtics blew the 34-9 Lakers (first in the Western Conference) out of the water, 139-107.
Boston’s stars played an immaculate game. Jayson Tatum shot an excellent 10-for-18, draining five 3-pointers on his way to 27 points in just 29 minutes. Walker and Jaylen Brown each scored 20 and combined for 13 assists, while Gordon Hayward added 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. Even Enes Kanter had 18 and 11!
The Lakers’ stars, on the other hand, not only didn’t play that well, but didn’t play much at all. Anthony Davis played only 23 minutes, which was the same as Kyle Kuzma and Avery Bradley, and one fewer minute than Danny Green. James led the team with just 29 minutes played. Davis and James each average 34.8 minutes played this season.
Though James was able to piece together a decent game (15 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds), Davis had just nine points on 3-of-7 shooting. He and James were outscored by 24 and 21 points while on the floor, respectively.
Davis’ decreased minutes is a culmination of many factors. He picked up two quick fouls early in the first quarter, which allowed Boston to recover from a 8-0 deficit. Plus, this was his first game back from a bum injury in almost two weeks.
The Lakers were on the second game of a brutal 5-game road trip that includes games in Houston and Philadelphia. Perhaps they decided to give their stars a lot of rest and concede the game without tipping off their game plan to a team they may anticipate facing in the NBA Finals. Boston led by as many as 29 in the third quarter, so head coach LeBron Ja- I mean Frank Vogel could’ve decided to pull the plug early.
After the game, Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens told ESPN, “The less he [Davis] plays, the better for everybody else.”
There’s no doubt this was a great win by the Celtics on their home floor over a great team, but I don’t think it was as big of a statement game as people may think. It’s true that with Walker, Tatum, Brown and Hayward all hitting shots at the same time, the Celtics are nearly impossible to guard. Plus with the defensive prowess of Marcus Smart off the bench, they’re also very tough to score on. But in the playoffs, when the likes of James and Davis are playing upwards of 40 minutes each game, things are very different.
I trust that Stevens has a plan for the lethal James and Davis combo that has taken the league by storm this season, and though the box score may look like he did, he hasn’t had to use it yet. Maybe when these teams face each other in Los Angeles next month, we’ll see a more competitive game.