A game between the Lakers and the Celtics matters most only in June, but that doesn’t mean the ones in between don’t matter.
Because no matter how intertwined the two teams have become — Frank Vogel began his pro career on the Boston bench, two of his players made their names in the NBA as Celtics and Boston’s best player studied under Kobe Bryant — they’re still opposing forces.
With intensity pulsing through Staples Center on Sunday, the NBA’s most historic rivalry delivered a regular-season classic, with the Lakers picking up a tight 114-112 victory.
It’s the Lakers’ first win against a top-three Eastern Conference team this season.
This intensity, at least for the Lakers, wasn’t there the last time the two teams met in Boston, with the Celtics drubbing the Lakers and handing them their most lopsided loss of the season.
Motivated in part by that result, the Lakers jumped out strong Sunday, using the type of stifling defense that they hope defines the kind of team they want to be and holding Boston to only 19 first-quarter points.
But Jayson Tatum, an unabashed Bryant admirer, went to work after that, scoring 18 points in the second and another 18 in the third to help Boston erase an 11-point deficit and turn it into a seven-point lead.
Tatum would finish with 41 points, tying his career high.
The Lakers, though, weren’t done, with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo helping push the Lakers back in front — James overcoming a big-time shot to the body to stay in the game and knock down big shots.
With the game tied at 105, Davis, who struggled near the basket, calmly stroked a three-point jumper from the wing, but a Gordon Hayward baseline jumper and a Jaylen Brown three-pointer swung the Celtics back in front.
Highlights from the Lakers’ win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
With the crowd on its feet and the Lakers needing a bucket, James muscled his way into the post and drew a foul. James made the first and missed the second, with a scramble for the loose ball giving the Lakers a chance.
Again the ball went to James in the post, but this time he sunk a beautiful turnaround jumper. The Lakers then forced a turnover, with Boston coach Brad Stevens getting a technical foul. Davis missed the free throw, but made three of his next four from the line, giving the Lakers just enough cushion.
Davis led the Lakers with 32 points and 13 rebounds, and James added 29 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
The Lakers will host New Orleans Tuesday at Staples Center.