Just one day after calling out the Los Angeles Lakers’ defensive effort, Lakers head coach Luke Walton got the result he was looking for in his team’s 96-90 win over the Chicago Bulls.
“Our defense was the best it’s been all year tonight,” Walton said on Lakers.com.
Whether it was due to the Lakers’ defense or just a shooting slump, the Bulls certainly did miss shots on Wednesday night. They posted a horrific true-shooting percentage (which accounts for the added value of three-pointers and free-throws) of 43.4 percent and scored at a rate that would have translated to 86.7 points per 100 possessions.
That is much worse than what the Lakers have typically allowed this season (107.4, which ranks 25th in the NBA), and way worse than than 116.5 the Lakers allowed in their first matchup with a Dwyane Wade-less Chicago on the second night of a road back-to-back.
The Bulls’ anemic offense allowed the Lakers to find a way to survive going just 2-8 from behind the arc, shooting 68.3 percent from the free throw line, and turning the ball over 23 times.
“Our guys have proven that when their backs are against the wall they can step up for a challenge, and they did it tonight,” Walton said. “All we talked about pregame was defense. That’s it. Defense. Win or lose, let’s get better.”
The Lakers did get better, and it allowed them to win despite scoring just 96 points, the fewest they’ve tallied in a win this season. Grinding it out with defense isn’t always going to work, and Walton acknowledged that the Bulls missed their fair share of open looks.
Still, it can’t be ignored how hard this team is playing on both ends of the floor under their new coach, and how they keep finding ways to win despite their roster falling apart around them. How far the Lakers can ultimately go this season remains an open question, but we do know that when they stop it won’t be because they quit.
All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com. All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.