The Lakers winning streak is over. The shorthanded Raptors came into STAPLES Center and handed the Lakers their 1st loss since opening night, 113-104.
While I could go on and on about what went wrong or who to blame for this loss, I think it’s better to take a step back and just understand sometimes you lose. I get fans will be mad about the circumstances and context of this defeat. As I mentioned in my game preview, Toronto was down 2 of their top 6 rotation players, with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka sidelined with injury. With these guys out, the expectation surely shifted from fans from “oh, this game is going to be a battle” to “oh, the Lakers should win.”.
That latter sentiment is always dangerous. Any NBA team can win any game on any night if the circumstances break right. A matchup here, a prolonged stretch of play that turns the game there, a few missed or made shots from either side…things happen. As the saying goes, it’s why we play the games.
The Raptors weren’t the better team on paper, but they played like the better team in very specific ways. They were excellent in transition offensively, leveraging their quickness and speed advantages to break out in the open court and score before the Lakers could get set. They mixed up their defensive coverages — switching between zone and man-to-man looks — to keep the Lakers offense off-balance. They took advantage of specific matchups when they presented themselves (more on this in a second), to win the game within the game on several possessions.
Over time, these things add up. So, it didn’t matter that the Lakers won the rebounding battle. Just as it didn’t matter that they won the turnover battle or really did pass the ball well, tallying 31 assists on their 41 made baskets. The Lakers lost this game on the margins and when certain matchups went against them.
Credit the Raptors, though, because they forced the issue on the margins in order to leverage advantages. Offensively, they set hard screens on and off the ball to force switches — particularly for Siakam to get into scoring position against players besides Anthony Davis. The sought out transition scoring chances at every opportunity. They crowded the paint, double teamed AD whenever he got a post touch, and flustered the Lakers with a swarming defense that was predicated on leveraging their length and quickness all over the floor.
The Raptors were, simply put, better than the Lakers this game. And that parts of that which weren’t simply the Raptors doing were very much the Lakers doing it to themselves. This game was tied going into the 4th quarter, but Toronto put together a quick run to start the period and pushed their lead to double digits. During several stretches, it looked like the Lakers might make a push, but missed layups by LeBron and Kuzma led to breakouts for Toronto that kept their lead safe.
When the Lakers finally did make a sustained push and found themselves down only 4 with two minutes left, the Lakers shot two 3’s on a single possession, missed both, and the 2nd miss led to another leak-out where the Raptors got an easy basket. The next Lakers possession led to a similar sequence and after another easy basket for the Raptors, the lead was 8 with a minute left and the game was over. So….yeah.
The Lakers tried valiantly to come back to win, but a spirited 3 minute push was not enough to topple a team that played with confidence and smarts for the other 45 minutes of the game. So, the streak is over. It was fun while it lasted. Maybe they can start another one on Tuesday. Now, onto some notes…
- Vogel played 12 players this game and I thought that reflected him doing a certain amount of searching for a player of combination of them that could string together a prolonged stretch of good basketball. Sadly, he never found it. I mentioned in my game preview that a foundation of the Lakers winning streak was that one or two role players seemed to step up each game to play above their normal level to push the Lakers over the top. Avery Bradley looked to do that early, but no one else really joined him.
- Kyle Kuzma was not great this game even if his final numbers show him scoring 15 points on 6-13 shooting and 3-7 from behind the arc. Kuzma got eaten when he was defending Siakam and seemed to have no chance when defending him. Siakam mercilessly hunted Kuzma in transition and, via on ball screens to force switches, in the half court and Kuz had no answer for him. I’d have liked to see Kuzma play with more physicality at the point of attack, but he ceded too much space too often and let Siakam get wherever he wanted. It really did remind of how KCP guarded Kawhi on opening night.
- LeBron got another triple-double this game with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists. But he only shot 5-15 from the field and 3-6 from the foul line. Toronto really bottled him up off the dribble and turned him into a passer off drives. LeBron also, uncharacteristically, missed some bunnies inside which dragged down his percentages. Overall, just a rough night for LeBron, particularly as a scorer. Kind of wild to say that on a night where he passed so well and got some of the numbers he did. But that is the standard he’s held to.
- Anthony Davis finished with 27 points on 10-20 shooting with 8 rebounds and 3 assists. He also had 5 turnovers and did not deal with the Raptors double teams well, missing a few opportunities for dump downs into his big man partner sealing against a smaller defender and, when he did make that pass throwing it inaccurately. Davis seemed frustrated throughout this game, likely a combination of not getting some calls he thought he’d earned, getting double teamed so consistently, and then having to carry such a heavy burden defensively by guarding Siakam while not being able to go back at him on the other end. Overall, I thought Davis played fine, but some of his mistakes were costly. He was a net positive overall, though, so I don’t want to paint him differently than that.
- The Lakers were -6 from behind the arc and -3 from the FT line. Those 9 points were the final margin in the game, so it’d be easy to say that was difference. It wasn’t, though. The Lakers were a -24 in transition points in a game they lost by 9. THAT was the difference.
- Danny Green went scoreless this game, missing all 5 of his shots. In the early stages of this game he missed two shots from behind the arc and clapped demonstrably to himself, visibly upset that he’d missed them. You could tell he really wanted to play well against his former team and to not do so was surely disappointing to him. He’ll get another chance in March when LA visits Toronto and he receives his championship ring.
That’s all for this one, folks. On to Tuesday in Phoenix where the Lakers will play the suddenly very good Suns.