I’d be lying if I was in any way confident the Lakers would beat the Hawks, but I did believe they could compete and make enough of a game of it that they could win it. Maybe I should have been more confident. The Lakers beat the Hawks 109-94 to sweep the season series and push back up to .500 at 9-9 on the season.
The way the game started, however, it did not look like this would be the result. As he did in the first match up in Atlanta, Dwight Howard was controlling the action, catching lobs for dunks, getting drop off passes for dunks, and controlling the backboards. Dennis Shroeder was beating Jose Calderon off the dribble and it all domino’d from there, the Lakers’ defense unable to help the helper in a way which would stop the onslaught. By the end of the 1st quarter, the Lakers trailed by 11 and it looked like it might be another one of those nights.
In the 2nd quarter, though, it all changed. The Lakers’ all bench unit clamped down defensively all over the floor. Suddenly dribble penetration didn’t come as easily, lobs for Howard were contested by Tarik Black and Larry Nance with shots either disrupted or passes deflected entirely. The team then turned those defensive stops into offensive opportunities, with Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson feasting in transition and early offense. The result was the Lakers holding Atlanta to 16 points while dropping 35 of their own. That 11 point deficit turned into an 8 point lead and the team never looked back.
Don’t get me wrong, in the 2nd half the Hawks made a couple of minor pushes, but that intensity and attention to detail the bench unit started carry over to the rest of the team. In the 3rd quarter the starting group was not nearly as porous defensively and were able to manufacture points on the other end. Calderon attacked the paint more and got Thomas Robinson a couple of easy baskets. More dribble penetration in general led to collapsing defense and putback chances for Mozgov. And on it went into the 4th where the bench unit came back in and put the nail in the coffin.
I really cannot say enough about the effort this team is playing with or the coaching being exhibited by Luke Walton and his staff. The recent losses to the Warriors could have been dispiriting, but Walton pulled the right levers from the bench and the players responded with strong play in support of their coach. When you remember the Lakers were down two starters, a game like this is even more impressive. It wasn’t always pretty, but this group plays together and tries to pick each other up when things go wrong.
That’s not just the sign of a good team, but a team who wants to do well for each other as much as for themselves. Credit them for carrying that attitude, but credit the coaches for instilling it and maintaining the buy-in which drives it. I really am impressed with how this team was able to bounce back and beat a good Hawks team for the 2nd time this season.
Now, onto some notes:
- For the night the all-bench unit had an offensive rating of 124.2 and a defensive rating of 65.6 in their 22 minutes of floor time together. The Lakers were a +25 in this stretch, which, when you consider the team was down by 11 after the 1st quarter and won by 15, was essentially the difference in the game.
- I gave a lot of props to the all-bench unit, and they deserve it. But credit Nick Young too. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the 1st half (12 in the 2nd quarter) and was a key part of the push which turned the game around.
- Larry Nance was brilliant in this game. His 12 point, 10 rebound double-double gives you a sense of his effectiveness, but doesn’t paint the entire picture. He tagged cutters and rotated back to his man defensively, he hit the offensive glass hard (4 ORebs), and was simply relentless in how he chased every loose ball. He was also assertive in looking for his own offense, taking 10 shots and doing so without hesitation most of the night. I was also very impressed with how he defended Paul Millsap all night, helping to hold the all-star big man to 9 points on 4-11 shooting.
- I loved the way Tarik Black played against his old teammate Dwight Howard. Folks may not remember this, but it was Black who stepped into the starting lineup for Houston when Dwight was dealing with injuries early into his first year. Black was eventually waived by the Rockets so they could sign Josh Smith (who was cut by the Pistons after signing that huge FA contract). Anyway, Black battled Dwight for position in the paint and challenged every ball above the rim — be it a pass to Dwight or a contested rebound. Black played 28 minutes (his most all year) and was effective on both ends scoring 7 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and also blocking 2 shots to go along with his 2 steals.
- Thomas Robinson got the surprise start and while he was a bit uneven early in the game, he found his stride and was productive. 9 points and 8 rebounds in 15 minutes is not a bad night at all. He made quick decisions with the ball offensively and chased rebounds with his normal vigor. Post game Luke Walton commented that he was happy to give Robinson a chance to play with Randle out, citing Robinson’s great work ethic and the positive attitude he brings to practice daily.
- Neither Clarkson (7-17) nor Lou (5-13) shot the ball very well, but it mattered very little. Lou got to the line 9 times and led the team in scoring with 21 points. Clarkson, meanwhile, did a little bit of everything by grabbing 4 rebounds, dishing a team high 5 assists, and tallying 2 steals to go along with his 18 points. Just a nice effort from both guys even when their shots were dropping as much as they’d have liked.
- Brandon Ingram only shot 3-10 to score 7 points, but I remain impressed with him. He grabbed 8 rebounds and battled all over the floor even though he was not the recipient of a kind whistle for most of the night. I’ve said it a lot, but I love his poise and that he’s not easily put on tilt, even when things are not going his way.