If there is one quality I have admired most about the Lakers this season it’s that they never give up. Injuries and a lack of talent has cost them games and the losing certainly affected their spirit at different points in the year, but regardless of the scoreboard this team has mostly played as hard as it could and tried their best to win the game.
Sundays game against the Raptors was a perfect example of this. In the first half the Lakers found themselves down by as many as 19. Their defense was struggling to contain dribble penetration and the Raptors were especially hot from the outside, killing the Lakers’ late rotations and spotty transition defense. Even at that early stage of the game, the Lakers could have simply started to go through the motions and, essentially, packed it in. Instead they battled back and closed the half with a nice push to only trail by 4 points at intermission.
The start of the third quarter saw the Raptors start on a similar run to the one they had in the first half, beginning the period to score 12 consecutive points and push their lead back to 16. Again, though, the Lakers battled back to close the period on a 28-11 run to take a single point lead heading into the 4th. Once that final period began, the Lakers fought tooth and nail on both sides of the ball to ultimately win the game down down the stretch with solid execution on both sides of the ball.
As they have most of the year, this team didn’t fall into the trap of watching the scoreboard. Instead they bought into what they were trying to do on both ends, made the needed plays, and came out victorious. Games like this feel good not just because of the final outcome, but because the team had so many chances to fall into the mindset that they should lose only to never do so. They battled hard and were rewarded with a victory. Games like this may not have any long term impact on what this team’s ceiling is, but it certainly reinforces that this group of guys really does care and wants to do their best.
- How about rookie Ryan Kelly? Coming off a career best day against the Celtics on Friday, Kelly continued his strong play against the Raptors by scoring 17 points on only 7 shots to go along with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. The rebounding numbers could stand an uptick, but the benefits of what Kelly provides offensively really do matter. He is a true stretch 4 with range that must be respected. Further, against the Raps, Kelly showed the off the dribble work that guys who play his style need in order to be effective in this league. Kelly attacked closeouts consistently and got into the mid-range area where he either pulled up for short jumpers or drew fouls when getting closer to the rim. Kelly went 6-6 from the line, including 3 big ones in the closing minutes when the defense respected his three point shot so much he was able to draw a foul on an aggressive close out. It has only been two games, but Kelly is starting to show that he truly does belong in this league.
- Pau Gasol wasn’t his most efficient only hitting 8 of his 20 shots from the field, but he still scored 22 points and grabbed a team high 9 rebounds. Gasol absolutely owned Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas whenever the two matched up, taking him in and out of the post and scoring on him easily most of the day. Gasol’s ability to work over the young big man forced the Raptors into adjusting their rotations, playing Chuck Hayes heavy minutes and having Patrick Patterson play some C. These moves worked out for the Raps, but if you’d have told me before the game that Jonas would be a non-factor on both ends, I’d say the Lakers have a better chance of winning this game.
- Welcome back Nick Young. Young returned from his one-game suspension to score a game high 29 points on 13 shots (10-11 from the foul line), including a fantastic 5-7 from behind the arc. Young showed good energy all day and hit some huge shots down the stretch when the Lakers needed baskets to hold off the Raptors. It’s days like this — where Young is not only “on” with his jumper, but is drawing fouls — that he’s a real weapon that can carry the team’s offense for extended stretches. Young was also solid on D, guarding DeMar DeRozan down the stretch and forcing his fellow Angeleno into some tough misses in isolation.
- Another double digit assist for Kendall Marshall. He dropped 11 dimes against Toronto including several next level reads out of the P&R that crystallize how much of a playmaker he really can be. His 10 points on 4-10 shooting (2-3 from behind the arc) were also helpful in keeping the defense off-balance and not just playing him for the pass.