The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 95-91 in large part due to the clutch heroics of Lou Williams, who scored 9 points in the final quarter to push the Lakers to their ninth victory of the season. Williams was the team's leading scorer on the night with 19 points on 4-of-14 shooting (but a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line), but it was rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell who gave the Lakers the opportunity to steal a win in game they shot just 36.8% from the field.
Russell struggled to start the game, going 0-for-1 from the field with two assists and two turnovers in the first half, but came alive in the second, scoring 12 points on four-of-seven shooting in 11 minutes (and sinking two of his three shots in the final quarter) before being subbed out with 6:45 remaining.
Byron Scott had a lot of defensible reasons for doing so. Russell was coming off of an ankle injury and had already played 24 minutes on the night, including 11 minutes straight at the time he was pulled. It would have made sense to exercise caution with one of the team's shiniest long-term assets, but while that was the end result, it was not the reason Scott gave for pulling the rookie:
Byron Scott on taking Russell out in 4th:"I just want to get that experience of Lou settling the guys down & getting those clutch buckets."— Bob Garcia IV (@bgarcia90) January 13, 2016
This is a flawed way of thinking for a team with nothing to play for but developing its youth, and emblematic of Scott's approach this season as a whole. If not for Russell's injury or that he would have played 18 consecutive minutes (due to him coming off the bench) had he been left in, he would have earned the right to play down the stretch more than Williams had that night. At the time Russell was yanked for Jordan Clarkson, he had 13 points on 57.1% shooting to go with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and was a +1 overall in plus-minus in his 24 minutes. Williams had played nearly 28 minutes and had scored 10 points on 12.5% shooting, three rebounds, eight assists, and was a -7.
If Scott had said he wanted to be careful with the Lakers highest pick since 1982, that would have been totally fine. However, much as he has with Kobe this year, he was prioritizing veteran experience over actual effectiveness. The move ended up working out and netting the Lakers a win, but the process was at least partially flawed.
All that being said, Scott did show progress on the youth movement front tonight, even if it was forced by injuries to Brandon Bass and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers head coach rolled with a lineup of Williams and four youngsters (Larry Nance, Jr., Julius Randle, Anthony Brown, and Clarkson) down the stretch of a tight game, which is to be applauded. A victory won on the backs of mostly young players (especially the intriguing Randle/Nance,Jr front-court experiment) is still a good thing for the franchise long-term, even if it wasn't executed perfectly.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.