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10 takeaways as Lakers edge Celtics in early-season clash

The historic rivalry delivered another memorable game. Shaun Powell shares his observations on the Lakers' win.

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

LeBron James and the Lakers bested Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics on Saturday at TD Garden.

The outcome wasn’t decided until the last tick, when a step-back jumper by Kemba Walker fell in favor of the Lakers and not inside the bucket for the Celtics.

What more could anyone want from a pair of teams who, whenever they get together, usually deliver something entertaining, if not memorable?

Saturday’s Celtics-Lakers matchup had a national network TV audience but not a packed house at TD Garden, which it deserved. Well, whatever: Flashes of brilliance by LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown carried the night, which eventually belonged to the Lakers, but not until the last breath and just by a hair, 96-95.

Here are 10 observations and takeaways from the latest result of a deep and rich rivalry:

We’re officially on Marcus Smart watch.
Is it just a left calf strain, which was the initial diagnosis? Or something more sinister? Anyway: It was an unsettling moment when Smart landed strangely going for a rebound early in the fourth. It was a non-contact incident, which often prove the most dangerous, and he had to be helped off the floor. Any lengthy injury, or a serious one, would be costly for Boston, because he’s a valued playmaker and clearly their best defender and also because …

Gordon Hayward is in Charlotte.
Remember just a few months ago when Hayward bolted for the Hornets and all those riches? Anyone who thought the Celtics would be just fine without him really didn’t see the big picture too clearly. Hayward was an asset, and he provided depth at the swing positions, and that stability was crucial in times like this.

The Lakers’ long trip winds down.
The long 7-game road trip finally ends Monday in Atlanta, and all things considered, it’s been decent for L.A. True, the Lakers did lose two straight games, but such happens during the course of a regular season, even to championship contenders. Winning in Boston was one of those bounce-back checkpoints that strong teams need, and the Lakers showed their mettle, especially in the final tense moments.

Jayson Tatum’s 30 points led Boston on Saturday.

Jayson Tatum takes it away.
The growth of a solid star continues this season, with Tatum showing a thirst for showing up in the clutch. His pair of mid-range baskets in the final few minutes rescued the Celtics just when it seemed L.A. had pulled away for good. Unfortunately for the Celtics, the ball didn’t find Tatum in the final seconds, though Walker did have a good look. Tatum finished with 30 points and once again was a dangerous tandem with …

Jaylen Brown, looking like an All-Star.
With 28 points against the Lakers, he now has 10 straight games with 20-plus points. No question, Brown is off to an impressive start and will undoubtedly get his first All-Star honors. However, he’d like to have those two missed free throws back with the Celtics down four with two minutes left.

LeBron just. keeps. coming.
Once again, with 21-7-7, another solid display from LeBron, and the reason this deserves mention is because they’re taken for granted, even this deep into his career, here in Season 18. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said: “I think I’ve learned not to doubt the greats of all time. There aren’t many guys like him that can play this well this late. But there weren’t many like him before.”

Tatum threw a spectacular, no-look, behind-the-back pass in transition.

That Pass.
It was a highly entertaining six seconds that awakened the game in the third quarter. Actually, it was two passes — two behind-the-back passes – that made it possible. LeBron threw behind the back to Anthony Davis, but it was errant, and Tatum grabbed the loose ball. But Tatum’s momentum was pushing him out of bounds. So, he threw the no-look behind-the-back and caught a streaking Robert Williams III perfectly in stride for a dunk.

The post-script to this play? It was Williams who finished it. Last fall, the Celtics signed Tristan Thompson to be their blue-collar big man next to Daniel Theis, and this was seen as a vote of low confidence for Williams, who after two seasons should’ve been ready for that role and those minutes. Instead, he’s playing behind Theis and Thompson, at least at the moment. Boston would like to see more consistency from the 23-year-old before giving him a larger role and responsibility.

Kemba Walker, ice cold all evening.
He was 1-for-12 shooting and for the Celtics’ sake, they’d better hope it was simply rust from missing the first 11 games with a problematic knee. The good news is: there’s no pain issue in a knee that made Walker a spectator early. The other issue? There’s still inconsistency, mainly with his 3-point shooting. That’s currently at its lowest percentage in six years, ever since Walker made a big improvement in that area.

Saturday was only his sixth game of the year, so there’s time. If Walker can join Brown and Tatum as a feared option on offense, Boston will bring a set of weapons that will produce big dividends come playoff time. About the 1-for-12, Stevens said: “It just wasn’t his night. But more often than not, it is his night, and we believe strongly in that.”

Davis: ‘We for sure weren’t losing three in a row.’

Anthony Davis’ phantom falloff.
At 22 points per game, this is his lowest scoring average in six years and a four-point drop from last season. His rebounds, blocks and steals — all down. And with the exception of a sprinkling of games, most notably his 37-point homecoming in Chicago last week, AD’s impact has been scattered. Is Davis having a down season — for him? Sure, that’s a question that could be asked. And so can this question: Does it really matter?

Well, three things: 1) This is such a small sample size, and the Lakers are winning, and this is the regular season; 2) It seems a bit of a stretch to be even mildly concerned about a player who remains in his prime, isn’t injured and, just maybe, is wisely pacing himself for the long haul; 3) With the exception of losing the ball in the final 15 seconds that was nearly costly, he was impressive against the Celtics, with 27 points (18 in the first half) and 14 rebounds.

Bench splinters for Wesley Matthews.
He racked up his first DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) of the season, as coach Frank Vogel continues to sift through a rather deep roster in a quest to settle on a regular nine-man group. Matthews is exclusively a 3-point shooter — he offers little else offensively — and that may not be enough to keep him in the rotation, especially since he’s not getting volume looks.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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