The Lakers got their 5th straight win on Sunday night, beating the Spurs 103-96 in a win that saw them up big early, but fatigued and able to hold on against a Spurs methodical comeback by the end.
The story of this game was, really, the Lakers defense. As I wrote in my game preview, coming into this game the Spurs were 3rd in the NBA in Offensive Rating scoring 112.4 points per 100 possessions. On Sunday, however, the Spurs were able to only post a 92.3 Offensive Rating against the Lakers stingy defense. This type of differential doesn’t just happen, the Lakers were pressuring the ball, contesting shots all over the floor, and mostly (save for a Dejounte Murray stretch after Avery Bradley left with an injury) containing everything the Spurs wanted to do offensively. 1After Sunday’s win, the Lakers now possess the league’s #1 ranked defense and, after holding to good offenses in the Spurs and Mavs down in back to back games, are starting to show they may be for real on that end.
Core to the team’s defense, not only on the season but vs. the Spurs, was the LeBron/Anthony Davis/Dwight Howard trio. Those players, both in their individual matchups and working together, were able to anchor the Lakers defensive efforts with strong closeouts and quick rotations into and around the restricted area to challenge Spurs shooters. Those three combined for 7 blocked shots vs. the Spurs2AD had 4, Dwight had 2, LeBron had 1. and really led the way on that end of the floor.
On the other end of the floor, it was the same trio who stood out. LeBron did not shoot the ball well38-23 shooting, 0-5 on 3’s, 5-10 from the FT line. but still racked up a 21 point, 13 assist, 10 rebound triple-double. He was a team best +15 in the boxscore, which was indicative of how much he impacted the game. The Lakers offense lacked smoothness and clarity when LeBron was out of the game, often not getting into their sets and too often settling for the first viable shot available rather than compromising the Spurs defense to get good (or even) great shots.
As for AD and Howard, they scored 25 and 14 points respectively. Davis shot 10-20 from the floor, went 1-2 from behind the arc, and hit all his 4 FT’s for a 25 point night. Howard, meanwhile, didn’t miss in his 7 field goal attempts and 4 of his 13 rebounds were on the offensive glass. Howard also had several key plays, on both ends of the floor, in the closing period that helped the Lakers hold onto control of the game. I said on twitter that Dwight should get the game ball for his effort and after a night of sleeping on it, I only believe this more. They do not win this game without him playing as well as he did.
Lastly, this was a game where the Lakers again showed they might just have a different mental makeup than we’re used to seeing around these parts. Yes, they let their foot off the gas in the 3rd period and let the Spurs find some traction via their methodical attack to get back in the game. I thought some of that was fatigue — both mental and physical — after Friday’s OT game in Dallas. However, for the second straight game, and vs. a good opponent, the Lakers showed some mental toughness and down the stretch to find a way to win a game that they easily could have lost.
There’s a “we know what we’re doing so let’s remain calm” element this team possesses, which stands in stark contrast to recent iterations of the Lakers, teams that were filled with young players who did not have the tough game reps in this league to form needed muscle memory. This veteran group, however, is showing that they do know how to get things done when games get tight and that is a quality that will serve them well this season even if it does not always translate to a win every night.
Now, onto some notes…
- The Lakers again shot poorly from deep, connecting on only 6 of their 24 shots from beyond the arc. For the season the Lakers are now 24th in the NBA at 31.4% from 3…which is bad. Coming into the year the idea was that “LeBron + AD + shooting = good team” and while the LeBron + AD part has been true, the shooting part has not. I think this team’s numbers will normalize over the course of a full season, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some concern about how well this team is able to knock down these shots.
- Kyle Kuzma’s minutes restriction was raised to 22 minutes heading into this game, but the 16 minutes he saw in San Antonio were actually fewer than he played in Dallas two nights earlier. Kuz is still clearly finding his way and sorting out where he fits in offensively while playing next to two high usage players in LeBron and Davis. He’s going multiple consecutive possessions without getting a meaningful touch and for a scoring threat like Kuz, finding the right flow and how he can still impact the game is going to take time. Add this to him still not having his game legs and the results aren’t going to be pretty too often.
- The Lakers really took control of the game in the 2nd period where they had an 11-1 run in the middle part of the frame and a 10-0 run to close the half. That 10-0 run came with Kuzma/LeBron/AD up front and KCP/Bradley in the backcourt. This group defended all over the floor and had LeBron and AD working offensively against a Spurs team that did not know how to stop them. Just a great quarter from the Lakers that saw them win those 12 minutes 30-18.
- I mentioned Dwight’s strong play, but I think KCP deserves special recognition as well. KCP scored 14 points on 5-9 shooting, including hitting 2-5 from distance. One of those 3’s was a critical shot that gave the Lakers a 3 point lead after the Spurs came back to tie the game. Add KCP’s shot making to his strong defense throughout the game and I just think we need to acknowledge a really strong effort from him this game.
- Avery Bradley left this game in the 4th quarter with what was reported at the time as a “lower leg injury”. Bradley was shown limping off the court and considering his injury history, I think every Lakers fan held their breath. Bradley did not return and was missed, especially when Dejounte Murray started to seize control of the game by attacking the basket against Alex Caruso and KCP. After the game Vogel said that Bradley was “kicked in the knee” and that Bradley was “fine”, but this should be monitored. We know Bradley has been an important defensive player for the Lakers this year, but his 7-9 shooting and 16 points were also huge vs. the Spurs. I hope he doesn’t miss much, if any, time with this.
- Alex Caruso played 20 minutes in this game. Quinn Cook (5) and Troy Daniels (15) played 20 minutes combined. I’m not sure if this is a long term shift or something that applied only to the Spurs — especially with Bradley having to go out. That said, until Cook and/or Daniels start to hit shots, I do not believe they have more value than Caruso even if the latter can still be prone to stretches on offense where he’s turnover prone. Caruso’s defense makes a difference, particularly as a rotator on the weakside between the 3 point arc and the paint.
- Another game where Danny Green got into early foul trouble and had to sit for a long stretch in the 1st half. Unlike previous games where this has happened, though, Green continued to pick up fouls in later shifts and never really found a rhythm. In 23 minutes, Green only went 1-4 from the field for 3 points. He was still a +10 in the boxscore, however, which speaks to his function in productive lineups even when he’s not shooting well.
- 2nd straight DNP-CD for Jared Dudley. With Kuzma back, this isn’t necessarily a surprise, but it’s worth monitoring whether Dudley continues to not play or if he might find some minutes if the Lakers guards outside of their top 4 (Bradley, Green, KCP, Caruso) continue to not play very well.
That’s it for this one, folks. Onto the Bulls next.