BOSTON — From the very first moment he touched the ball, Lonzo Ball was booed by the Boston faithful.
While this wasn’t the same vitriolic level of booing that Jason Kidd experienced during Nets-Celtics playoff days, Ball nevertheless got his first Boston-style greeting followed by a double-digit loss to the Celtics.
Welcome to the rivalry, kid.
“It’s their home, I’d boo too if I was a fan,” said Ball, who also admittedly had his brother LiAngelo Ball and his recent arrest and release on bail in China on his mind.
The Celtics, built to win now, remained the hottest team in basketball by extending their winning streak to 10 with a 107-96 win over the Lakers. The Lakers, rebuilding with an eye on next summer’s free agency, were competitive, cutting a 21-point lead to two in the third quarter.
“It felt like in the first quarter, they just, really, they punked us,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who went to center Andrew Bogut for more toughness and defense midway through the first quarter but watched the Celtics go on a 12-0 run and take a 33-16 lead into the second quarter. “They were bigger than us, they were stronger than us. We had a couple good defensive possessions, and they just went and took 50-50 balls on and hit 3’s.
“But after that, I thought we engaged nicely in the fight from that point on. We just didn’t do smart things. We played hard enough in the second quarter on to win, but we didn’t play smart enough. Against a good team it’s near impossible if that’s the type of game you have.”
While the game was competitive for stretches, Celtics-Lakers is a long, long way from its glory days, with both franchises having more interesting battles in the NBA draft lottery recently than on the court. But the two teams are stocking up with young talent and have their franchise point guards in Kyrie Irving and Ball.
In their first-ever encounter, Irving dazzled with a couple of Kyrie-esque dribbling maneuvers and no-look passes. But he remained relatively quiet until the fourth when he scored two buckets in a row to push a six-point game to a 10-point Celtic cushion. Irving finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Ball, though, did not shy away from the elite competition. While he continued to struggle with his shot and missed 11-of-15 from the field, he finished with 9 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and even chased down Irving the length of the court to swat a shot from behind.
The Celtics, playing without Al Horford (concussion) and losing rookie Jayson Tatum after nine minutes due to ankle soreness, got a major lift from Aron Baynes. Baynes looked more like Batman adversary Bane in the paint, muscling the Lakers for 21 points and eight rebounds.
For many of these young Lakers, playing in hostile Boston is something they’re getting used to. For Ball, Wednesday night was his initiation to the NBA’s most storied rivalry.
“For me it starts with Magic and Bird,” Ball said of his exposure to Celtics-Lakers before the game. “My dad [LaVar] used to show me the ‘Hardwood Classics’ for them. Those battles are great, especially in the Finals. Tonight we will come out here and play as hard as we can and try to [continue] that legacy.”
Not only did Ball get a taste of Boston by getting booed each time he touched the ball, he saw the Boston faithful give Celtics legend Paul Pierce a huge applause during a break in action. The Celtics showed a video of Pierce on the video board with the former Celtic great in the house as an ESPN analyst. Pierce’s jersey will be retired this season.
The Celtics threatened to blow the young Lakers off the floor, leading by as many as 21 points early in the second quarter. But Los Angeles, as has been the case most of this season so far, came back from a massive deficit. Walton went to a smaller lineup with Julius Randle at center and the Lakers went on a 22-8 run.
Luke Walton tried to go big in the first quarter with Brook Lopez and later Bogut and did not use Randle until the second quarter. Randle had 10 points and seven rebounds in the second to help the Lakers get within 58-52 just before halftime.
The Lakers were within 89-86 with 8:36 left after a Randle three-point play, but the Celtics held them off with Irving’s help.