So here’s the thing. Those two tweets below pretty much sum up my feelings about this game. The Lakers — and that means the players and the coaches — were average to below average in a lot of ways against the Celtics and that showed up in the 107-96 final score.
As I wrote coming into this game, I didn’t expect the Lakers to win, but did think they’d compete well and keep the game close for long stretches. That’s exactly what happened, so in the end, give me my props, dammit. No, but seriously, the Lakers aren’t yet a good team, but they can play like one sometimes and vs. the C’s if you want to take those glimpses and enjoy them for that, I don’t blame you. I’m going to do some of that, too.
That said, this game leaves me somewhat frustrated because the flaws of the roster and in coaching staff showed up and having those things play out in some fairly predictable ways can be tough to watch. All credit due to the Celtics for playing better — especially when they did it without Horford and with rookie Jason Tatum missing the entire 2nd half with a sore ankle. They’re well coached and have assembled a good roster of young players who know their roles and can excel in them.
But, make no mistake, the Lakers could have won this game. Even though they turned the ball over like crazy and couldn’t grab the needed defensive rebounds to close out possessions. They could have won even though they let Aron Baynes go wild inside and mixed up some defensive coverages on Kyrie Irving late. The Lakers made mistakes you simply can’t agains a good team and they suffered for it with an L. Learn and move on.
Or at least that’s the hope. Because there are things to learn from this game.
A key one, to me at least, is that Julius Randle needs to play more. In the first quarter, rather than turn to Randle as the glue for the team’s 2nd unit, Luke Walton turned to Andrew Bogut in the pivot. Bogut did some good things out there — he protected the rim on a few possessions, facilitated the offense from the top of the key. But he also looked slow in when changing ends and got torched defensively when guarding in space. He was ineffective when guarding switches and considering that’s been a strength and a huge part of the bench’s defensive identity this year, I thought it had a negative compounding effect on how that unit played.
Normally the bench can pick up the starters when they falter, but against the Celtics that unit only dug the hole deeper. When Bogut and Corey Brewer shared the floor for the second half of the 1st quarter, the Lakers got outscored by 12 and had an offensive efficiency in the 30’s. Needless to say, that won’t get it done. The Lakers have a hard enough time scoring, but get by with their 2nd unit by leveraging their athleticism to up the tempo on both ends and make things chaotic. Teams have trouble keeping up and LA’s reserves make their mark. Bogut didn’t allow for that and the team suffered for it.
Further, one of the Lakers more successful units — granted, in limited minutes — has been Ball, KCP, Ingram, Kuzma, and Randle. That unit was again golden vs. the C’s but only got 6 minutes of action.
This is a small sample and who knows if they keep that up over the course of longer minutes. But I’d have liked to have seen them to have gotten that chance. Especially with Lopez struggling with his shot. Give Randle some of those minutes and see if his energy and chemistry with the team’s best athletes could have turned the tenor of this game around. Again, this part of the game is on Walton. I don’t need to hear him say this as much as I need to see him make adjustments in the future.
But Walton didn’t lose this game alone. Again, look at the team’s 21 turnovers, the Celtics 16 offensive rebounds, and the fact that the C’s also shot 31 FT’s. The Lakers made too many mistakes to beat a good team, even if that good team was banged up. I’ll hope for better the next game and, like the unforgiving league the NBA is, we won’t have to wait long as the Lakers are in Washington to face the Wizards Thursday night on a back to back.
And now, a few notes…
*Teams are starting to scout Kyle Kuzma. They’re not helping off him as much when he’s spotting up behind the arc which is taking away his 3 pointer and his ability to attack closeouts. Kuzma didn’t play bad, but his opportunities to make an impact were fewer — he only took 10 shots (hitting 4). He did miss some shots he’d normally make, but I want Kuzma shooting 15 times a game (or more) because those attempts represent an activity level and show me he’s getting his chances to make plays. Those chances weren’t there as often this game.
*How well has Ingram been playing lately? So well that he had 18 points on 7-11 shooting this game, tacked on 7 rebounds, and 2 steals and I thought he left some plays on the floor to be made. In other words, Ingram was good this game and I thought he still could have done more. Expectations are rising for this young man and he’s the one moving the bar for himself. Love the progress he’s making.
*Lonzo Ball didn’t shoot well again. Another sub 30% shooting night with a 4-15 effort. He also had a 5×4 night, scoring 9 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, dishing 6 assists, and tallying 4 blocks. He only had 2 turnovers, too. This is a stat heavy way of me saying that as hard a college prospect as Ball was to analyze, the same is becoming true of his rookie year. He’s impacting the game in real ways, but we also judge players’ ability based on tangible things like how many times you actually make the shots you’re attempting. There’s a certain amount of discernment you need when analyzing Ball and some nights, it’s easier to just say “eff it” and not want to put in that effort. I get it. But I liked his game even if he continued to give fuel to those who didn’t.
*The Lakers really could use another wing. This was a night where neither Brewer nor Hart played particularly well and that’s one-third of your perimeter rotation. If Ball’s going to continue to shoot poorly, that only leaves Clarkson, Ingram, and KCP to carry the load as wings. They’ll need to be damn near perfect as offensive options if no one else is going to get buckets as a key ball handler for the Lakers to win on those types of nights and even if they are perfect they still may not be enough.
*Clarkson had another really good night statistically — 18 points, 7-13 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists — but he pounded the ball a ton and that’s not what the Lakers offense needs to be about. As long as he’s productive it’s hard to criticize him too much, but in the battle of process vs. results, the latter is winning with JC and I’d prefer it be the former a bit more. Still, though, he was really important in keeping this game within striking distance and, overall, you’ll take that.