The Lakers moved to 10-2 on the season with a 99-97 win over the Kings on Friday night. As the score would imply, the game was hotly contested and the Lakers could have just as easily lost this game — and probably should have — as they could have come out on top.
That they didn’t is a testament to a lot of factors, but mostly because the Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis along with enough capable role players that at least one steps up to help turn a game. Against the Kings that role player was KCP, whose 4th quarter scoring was pivotal to the point that LeBron said his fellow Klutch client deserved the game ball.
Let’s start there, then. The Lakers entered the 4th quarter up 3, but were never able to push their lead to the point that things looked comfortable. It was the opposite, in fact, as the Kings continued to battle and make shots, even taking the lead later in the period on a Bogdan Bogdonavic sequence where he made a 3, then got a steal, then got an And-1 layup.
During this back and forth final period, though, it was KCP who came up again and again with big shots to ensure the Lakers would not lose their grip on the rope. Caldwell-Pope scored 12 of his 16 points in the 4th period, hitting 2 of his 3 shots from deep and 5 of his 6 shots overall.
What impressed me most about his scoring, though, wasn’t just the accuracy, but the variety of shots he hit. A pull up jumper from 18 feet after the defense dropped down to cover AD on a roll, a strong finish at the rim after cutting off of an AD post up and receiving a handoff, a catch and shoot 3, a walk up 3 after catching the ball in semi-transition…KCP did work from all over the floor, on all types of shots, and every one of them mattered.
While the Lakers do not win this game without KCP’s late game scoring, they also do not win it without LeBron’s overall brilliance over the course of the full game. 29 points and 11 assists for Bron, but beyond those numbers there was a certain control and want he displayed throughout the course of the game that mattered a great deal. It was not quite to the level of what he did in the Bulls game,In Chicago, I thought LeBron played a style that said “I will not let us lose this game under any circumstances”. but Bron carried this team for significant stretches and that matters.
What also matters is that LeBron nearly killed a man by dunking him directly into a grave. Maybe that’s exaggerating some…but not really. Seriously, just watch this.
That dunk did not just end the game like it would if it was at Rucker Park, though. The Kings continued to fight back and stayed in it, so there was more work to do. And LeBron delivered, especially in the 4th quarter, to ensure his team would win. Scoring 11 points in the final frame, LeBron helped seal this win as much, if not more, than KCP did down the stretch.
The ultimate sealing of the game, however, came on the final play of the game. Down 2 with a handful of seconds left, the Kings had the ball coming out of a timeout inbounding from the sideline. The Kings, who had been hot from the outside all night, used the threat of winning the game with a last second 31Something they’d done to the Lakers last season, which Luke Walton is acutely aware of. to fake a handoff action and then have Harrison Barnes keep the ball and drive to the rim to attempt a layup that would have tied the game. It was a wonderful design and it would have worked, too, if not for Anthony Davis.
The ever aware Davis sniffed out this action wonderfully, rotated to the rim to challenge Barnes’ shot, and then engulfed him fully to block the shot and end the game. Davis, literally, saved the day and did so on a night where he was clearly frustrated offensively, unable to get much going against a Kings defense that was intent on double teaming him on every post touch and shading help his way anytime he attacked off the dribble.
Davis’ defense was not limited to that game ending block, though. He tallied 3 blocks total in the 4th quarter and had several other wonderful contests on Sacramento shot attempts, including a challenge of a Buddy Hield jumper that needed to be reviewed to see if Davis actually tipped the ball Hield missed the shot so badly.
I could give you more about this game — how well the Kings shot the ball, how Kyle Kuzma’s play in the 1st quarter served the same purpose that KCP’s efforts did in the 4th, or how the Lakers bench beyond Kuzma left a lot to be desired — but I’ll just leave the main recap here. The Lakers won a game they probably shouldn’t have. But like I said on twitter, I’ll take an ugly win over a loss when you play above your head any day of the week. The Lakers gave us one of those on Friday and I’ll take it, thank you very much.
Now, onto some notes…
- I briefly mentioned Kyle Kuzma above, citing how instrumental his early game scoring was to keeping the Lakers connected on the scoreboard. What’s more important to me in the big picture, though, is that this was the 3rd straight game that Kuzma looked comfortable offensively and had his jumper going. Kuz hit 3 of his 7 attempts from deep and that’s the type of accuracy the Lakers would love to see from him on a night to night basis.
- Alex Caruso finished the game with 10 points on 4-10 shooting, but was mostly just okay overall. Bogdonavic gave him real issues defensively, shooting over the top of him and running him ragged off picks. Caruso battled and had some good closeouts and defensive plays, but he looked to wear down as the game wore on and when he did Bogdanovic took full advantage of him. Additionally, early in the game Caruso could not buy a basket and that cramped the Lakers spacing as the Kings simply ignored him in order to offer more help on LeBron and (especially) AD.
- I thought the Kings set some really good screens this game — particularly on the ball. The Kings ran a bunch of P&R’s for Hield/Bogdanovic/Yogi Ferrell and crushed the Lakers guards and wings with those screens in the process. This allowed those guys to walk into jumpers or get into the lane pretty easily. Against the Lakers drop coverage good screeners are going to give them fits and that’s doubly hard to cover if the guy setting a pick can also step out and hit a jumper. The Kings had that in Holmes and Bjelica and I thought it hurt the Lakers.
- Really rough night for Rondo in this one. After a good game vs. the Suns and a night off vs. the Warriors, Rondo missed all 3 of his shots, did have 4 assists but countered that with 2 turnovers, had a terrible foul against Buddy Hield on a 3 point shot attempt, and was a team worst -12 in the boxscore in his 18 minutes. Rondo won’t be this bad every night, just as he won’t be as helpful as he was vs. the Suns every night. But this game was particularly rough and I hope he doesn’t have too many of these types of performances this year.
- Just want to give a nice shout out to Frank Vogel. This was a night where most of his team didn’t have it, but he tinkered with the lineups until he found a group that was working together and stuck with them to close the game. There are micro decisions every game that can either propel you forward or hold you back and I thought he made more of the former than the latter vs. Sacramento.
- The Lakers lost the rebounding battle, had fewer assists than the Kings, made fewer field goals, and were a -15 from behind the arc (making 11 threes to the Kings 16). So, how’d they win? Well, they made 20 of their 22 FT’s while the Kings only went to the line 9 times (making all 9). Of those 20 makes at the line, none were bigger than LeBron’s two makes with a little over 5 seconds left that gave them the 2 point lead that was the final margin. Considering some of LeBron’s recent FT woes, those were huge makes.
That’s it for this game, ya’ll. Have a good one.