The Lakers were on a back-to-back and they drew the reigning, defending NBA champions at the tail end. As expected, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers, 119-108.
But the final score doesn’t tell the story of the whole game. In fact, this was one of the better performances they’ve had this season, even though they didn’t have starting point guard D’Angelo Russell (who had a sore knee and was rested by the team).
The Lakers got off to a great start as they led the Cavs, 31-23, in the first quarter. But the Cavs came roaring back as they scored 15 unanswered points. Kyrie Irving did his thing as he was weaving, scoring, and getting his teammates involved. But the Lakers didn’t let the Cavs break free. Julius Randle and Nick Young did everything they could to keep up with the champs. Jordan Clarkson, who finally had a great offensive game, beat the halftime buzzer with a lay-up and cut the deficit to three.
The three-point barrage continued from both teams. Nick Young was hot all game; he would end with 32 points and 8 shots from behind the arc. Kevin Love and J.R. Smith would do the damage for the Cavs from the outside. Later on, Clarkson and Luol Deng would join in on the act. It was your good old-fashioned shootout. We know how potent the Cavs offense was but we saw some excellent ball movement from the Lakers. L.A. was able to stay with Cleveland.
Until the end. Cleveland was hanging on to a three-point lead, 108-105, before the Lakers finally went cold. The champs took advantage and LeBron James made a three to give themselves a cushion with 2:30 left. The Lakers wouldn’t make a field goal for more than three minutes. Cleveland ended the game with an 11-3 run. Both teams combined for 31 three-pointers.
I don’t necessarily think this was a moral victory but I do think there was some growth today for this team. They’ve lost nine out of ten, sure, but the Lakers played an all-around good game in Cleveland. They were just overwhelmed and got beat by a better team. The Cavaliers are champions, after all. LeBron didn’t get off to a great start but he still finished with 26-7-9. Kyrie distributed early then got himself going offensively; he had 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 12 assists. Kevin Love, who seems to finally have it figured out in Cleveland, went for 27 points and 17 boards.
But the ball movement was crisp for the first time in weeks. They had 12 turnovers, which wasn’t bad. Nick Young, again, had eight three-pointers, which was a career-best. And he didn’t do so bad defensively, either. Julius Randle got off to a good start and ended with 16 points. Again, Clarkson had a good offensive game and scored 20 points (he didn’t pound the ball as much like dribbling was going out of style). We’re encouraged by Luol Deng. He scored 15 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Deng made some big shots to keep the team in it. And Brandon Ingram flirted with a triple-double (9 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists). He showed some leadership out there in the point guard position; you could see him directing traffic out there. It was good to see. Larry Nance, Jr. only had two points and five boards but playing in front of your dad must feel pretty awesome. Timofey Mozgov didn’t play a great game but he did receive his championship ring (he was mobbed by his former Cavs teammates before the game started).
If they keep playing like this in the future, they should win more often than not. When they get more experience playing together, cut the little mistakes, tighten up defensively, and consistently play well in four quarters, then the Lakers will be a team to watch. Hopefully, they do most of the same play in their next game, which is in Charlotte on Tuesday.
The Lakers will be fine if they continue to make progress like this. With the expectations tapered a bit, the wins would certainly be good but the playoffs, at this point, would be gravy.