The Los Angeles Lakers engaged in an old fashioned Western shootout in Staples Center to open the season, with the young guns of the purple and gold proving too spry for the Houston Rockets. It was a far cry from two season openers ago, against Houston, when Julius Randle lost his entire rookie season.
All things come full circle as the Lakers enter a new era.
It was an overall team effort that led the Lakers to victory, which can mostly be attributed to Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. The trio combined for 63 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals, doing a little bit of everything to get the Lakers through a tremendous outing from James Harden.
Here are a few of keys that stood out while watching an exciting season opener.
D’Angelo Russell kept them floating early
Harden went on a rampage to open the game, tallying up 12 points with an astonishing nine assists through the first 12 minutes. Still, somehow, someway, the Lakers wound up ending the first quarter tied up at 38. That way is in large part due to D’Angelo Russell.
Russell matched Harden’s 12 points, draining three of his five attempts from deep while letting the world know what his sh*t is. That’s our sh*t too, as Harrison Faigen laid out immediately after the win.
It was capped off by this four-point play, which is the culmination of a heckuva’ first quarter for D’Angelo:
Bonus: The Randle-Russell two-man game
Something to keep an eye on as the season goes on is the two-man game that may (or may not) develop between Julius and D’Angelo. Randle dished out six dimes against the Rockets, four of which went to Russell, and three of which ended with three points going on the scoreboard.
Outside of the threes, though, this play stuck out. Russell initiates by driving and drawing in the defense before kicking out to Randle, which leads the big man to do the exact same thing while D’Angelo trots out for a wide open jumper:
Simple. Beautiful. Splash.
Jordan Clarkson’s huge second half
Jordan Clarkson had a poor first half and hardly had a chance to get on the floor after picking up two quick fouls. He turned it around in the second half, though, scoring 23 points and doing serious damage inside. Clarkson made four of his five attempts from around the rim.
His body control and finishing ability are what set him apart from the rest of the Lakers’ guards and wings:
But he’s hopeful his defense can help elevate his game. Clarkson showed how he can make a defensive impact in a huge fourth-quarter possession that helped seal the victory:
That angle doesn’t do JC justice. Major props for him just throwing his body in front of the ball to create this turnover:
More on his defense in a bit...
JC and JR made key plays down the stretch
Harden killed the Lakers but couldn’t put on the finishing touches while going one-of-five from the field in the fourth quarter. Randle was called on to slow him down and he clearly did a good job of shouldering that responsibility, forcing an airball on this possession:
Moments later, he blocked Harden’s layup attempt off an isolation drive from the top of the arc. Julius’ footspeed here is impressive:
The play of the game might just go to Clarkson, though, who made it clear through preseason he wants to be the Lakers’ defensive specialist. He was just that when he protected the Lakers’ four-point lead with just over a minute left by poking the ball away in transition from Harden:
Shouts to D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young for suicide diving on the loose ball. The carnage.
The next possession? Randle goes to his handle and first step, breaks down Nene, and finishes in the paint:
And there you have it. The keys to an incredibly fun Lakers victory to open the season.