Kyle Kuzma shoots against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 23, 2018.
(Harry How/Getty Images)

Kuzma Torches Celtics in Last-Second Win

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

A rookie, the 27th pick of the draft nonetheless, went toe-to-toe with one of the greatest scorers in the game — and won.

Kyle Kuzma poured in 28 points — including 17 in the fourth quarter alone — as he nudged the Lakers past Kyrie Irving and the rival Boston Celtics, 108-107.

Kuzma — whose fourth quarter was the highest scoring period by any Laker this season — had a simple explanation for what he saw out on the floor: “The rim.”

“I just felt like every time I touched it I was trying to score it,” he said. “I was in a good rhythm and they went in.”

Kuzma engaged in a battle of trash talk and buckets with Irving, who attacked the Lakers inside and out on his way to 33 points.

Irving was brilliant with a dozen points in the fourth, but Kuzma was even better, hitting six of his seven shots, including three straight 3-pointers.

“He was out there just not thinking about anything,” Julius Randle said. “Just playing hard, playing without a conscience. He was big time for us today.”

Irving hit a 3-pointer to cut the Lakers’ lead to two with just 2:32 remaining in the game, but Kuzma had an answer, cleaning up the offensive glass with a put-back basket.

Irving responded with a finger-roll layup before Randle grabbed one of his five offensive rebounds and stuffed a dunk.

But the Lakers (18-29) struggled to close out at the free throw line, shooting a miserable 7-of-17 in the fourth quarter and just 58.4 percent on the night.

After two misses by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the final seconds, Boston’s Marcus Smart was barely off on what would have been the game-winning triple.

Yet the Lakers held on, thanks largely to Kuzma and his five treys on the night.

The 22-year-old also flashed some fancy playmaking with two telepathic behind-the-back assists to Larry Nance Jr.

@kuzmakyle goes behind-the-back to @larrydn7 for the slam!

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“We let a guy, Kuzma, get going,” Smart said. “And in this league when you let a guy get hype, it’s hard to contain, it’s hard to stop him. And he made every right play tonight.”

But with Irving cooking and Smart (22 points) having an unusually hot shooting night, L.A. needed more than just Kuzma to top the Celtics (31-14).

Defeating the best team in the Eastern Conference required some muscle from Randle, who bullied the Celtics’ bigs on his way to 14 points and 14 rebounds. He was crucial to the Lakers’ 23-7 advantage in second-chance points.

Plus, Jordan Clarkson lived in the paint, penetrating the Celtics’ defense for 22 points in L.A.’s sixth straight win at home — a victory made all the more special by the fact that the team celebrated its late owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, by rallying to beat its archrival.

“Kyrie is one of the premier players in our league, and when he gets going there’s not a lot you can do,” coach Luke Walton said. “But what I was looking for was us to take the fight to them, and I was very pleased with the way that we competed tonight.”

Lonzo Ball (sore left knee) sat out his fifth straight game. … The Lakers scored 15 points in the first quarter, but 30-plus in the remaining three. … The Celtics shot only 10 free throws, making eight. … A sold-out crowd of 18,997 packed STAPLES Center.

Chalk up another #LakersWin

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