Celtics down Lakers, 116-95

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Celtics down Lakers, 116-95

BOSTON There was a 90-second stretch in the third quarter in which Jeff Green had a monster dunk, followed by a blocked shot moments later that led to a Paul Pierce 3-pointer.
Efficient offense.
Effective Defense.
Energetic Hustle.
The Celtics delivered the kind of Beantown beatdown seldom seen when these two bitter rivals battle as Boston had no trouble in downing the Lakers, 116-95.
Boston (26-23) has now won sixth in a row which ties their longest winning streak of the season. And with Thursday's win, it also snapped a three-game losing skid to Lakers (23-27).
Pierce led all Celtics with 24 points while Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 27 points
The first quarter was a relatively close one despite the Celtics being in early foul trouble.
In fact, the Lakers were in the bonus just 2:22 into the game courtesy of Dwight Howard attracting lots of attention - and fouls by the Celtics big men.
Among them was Kevin Garnett, who left the floor just 2:08 into the game after picking up his second personal foul.
But in the past, Garnett going to the bench meant a rough go of things for the Celtics.
It hasn't been that way lately, with the C's getting good production from Jason Collins and Chris Wilcox off the bench.
Collins did a decent job of protecting the basket along with chipping in two points.
Wilcox did much of the same, along with grabbing a couple rebounds which helped the Celtics lead 27-23 after the first.
Boston opened the second with an 8-2 run to take its first double digit lead of the night following a pair of free throws by Jeff Green.
Green was just part of a Celtic second unit that once again delivered strong play at both ends of the floor.
At the half, the C's bench had outscored the Lakers' backups 25-13 with Green (11 points) leading the way. Not too far behind was Jason Terry (six points) and Wilcox (six points, five rebounds).
Green finished with 19 points off the bench while Terry and Wilcox had 15 and 8 points, respectively.
As for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant was doing what Bryant does to most teams -- get buckets.
A 27.6 points per game scorer this season, Bryant led all players with 14 at the half. During the Lakers' recent run of success, Bryant's scoring has been balanced with a unusually high number of assists.
But on Thursday, Bryant finished with zero assists which certainly played a role in Boston taking a comfortable 58-44 lead into the half that was never in doubt afterwards.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 25, the Boston Celtics had the perennial title contenders on the ropes with the lead in the fourth quarter only to lose it and the game, 109-103.

On the road at Houston, one of the Western Conference’s top teams, the Celtics led in the fourth quarter and wound up losing their Dec. 5 matchup 107-106 as Al Horford missed what would have been a game-winning lay-up as time expired.

Boston played well in both games, but not well enough to win which unfortunately for the Green Team has been how things have gone when they’ve faced some of the better teams in the NBA this season.

They are hoping to break that trend tonight when they hit the road and face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder (14-9) come in with a slightly better record than the Celtics (13-10).

Boston’s issue isn’t that they can’t play with the better teams.

It’s their finish that needs work.

Boston has lost five of its six games this season against teams that are currently among the top-4 in their respective conferences. 

Losses to San Antonio and Houston only highlight Boston not being able to make the late-game runs needed to win.

Even in their 101-94 loss to Toronto on Friday, it was the Raptors’ ability to make one clutch play after another when it mattered most, that proved to be what was needed to propel them to victory.

“That’s what good teams do; they execute at the end of the game,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “We just have to execute better and get stops at the end of the game. That’s what it comes down to.”

And while the Celtics have a number of returners from last season, every season brings about a different team and with that, a need to learn how to collectively be successful especially down the stretch in close games.

“We’re learning,” Bradley said following the Raptors loss. “We’re moving on to the next game.”

And that would be the Thunder who come in having won six of their last seven games.

Of course when it comes to the Thunder, everything starts with Russell Westbrook who is on everyone’s short list for league MVP.

He is averaging a triple-double this season with 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.8 rebounds per game.

“He’s amazing,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier who will likely spend some time defending Westbrook tonight. “He’s going to be aggressive. We have to try and find a way to stop that. He’s putting up video game stats. It’s tough but we gotta do something.”

The Celtics will likely lean heavily on Marcus Smart and Bradley, a first-team all-NBA defensive selection last season, when it comes to trying to slow down Westbrook.

“Russell’s a good player,” Bradley said. “I look forward to every matchup. If it’s him, whoever it is, I look forward to it. That’s what this league is about.”

It’s also about growth and development of franchises into title contenders, something the Celtics are eager to continue pushing towards tonight.

Horford spent the previous nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, advancing to the playoffs every season.

He saw first-hand how they went from a team that could barely get into the playoffs, into one that produced four all-stars in one season and had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Horford saw the loss to Toronto as an example of a really good team doing what great teams do and that’s finding a way to win regardless of how things are going most of the night.

“We made a run early (against Toronto), they stayed with it, didn’t rattle and eventually got over us,” Horford said. “We’re growing as a group.”