The Los Angeles Lakers snapped their four-game losing streak with 111-102 victory over the L.A. Clippers on Christmas Day. When asked for the keys to their victory, Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell could have cited a few things. The Lakers 15-2 run to open the third quarter was big, as was the fact that the Clippers were missing Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to start the game before losing shooting guard J.J. Redick midway through.
Russell kept things a bit simpler.
“We scored more points than them, we followed the game plan, everybody was proactive,” Russell told reporters. “There were so many keys to us winning.”
Russell himself was a major one of those keys, but before he could bring the Lakers home, the team needed Timofey Mozgov to help put them in a position for Russell to carry them the rest of the way.
The seven footer was at his most useful in a matchup against fellow behemoth DeAndre Jordan. Mozgov’s three rebounds won’t blow anyone away, but he spent most of the night just doing his best to keep the Clippers super athletic center off of the boards so his teammates could secure rebounds.
It worked, with the Lakers grabbing 81 percent of available defensive rebounds while Mozgov was on the floor (the second highest rate on the team behind Russell), a stat which dropped to 75% while he sat.
In addition to his work on the defensive glass, Mozgov also made himself useful on offense in part by being active on the offensive boards:
But Mozgoz wasn’t just doing the dirty work. He showed off a surprisingly wet jumper, knocking down five of his seven shots outside of the paint en route to 19-points (one off of the season-high 20 he dropped on Brooklyn):
“It’s something I can do, and something that helped us today,” Mozgov told reporters of his mid-range prowess. “If it's going to help us, I'll shoot every time."
Plus-minus isn’t a perfect stat, but Mozgov’s +13 being tied for his second-best effort of the season felt reflective of his impact, as did Russell’s season-high +14 (only Nick Young’s +25 was higher among Lakers).
The two were biggest for the Lakers down the stretch. While Young did most of his damage in the first half, Russell and Mozgov’s metrics are hilariously ridiculous in the second two quarters. The Lakers outscored the Clippers at a rate that would have translated to 99.1 points per 100 possessions in the second half, while Russell’s net rating was a similarly absurd 69.6.
These are small sample sizes leading to insane numbers, but they do illustrate how much better the Lakers looked with Mozgov and/or Russell in the game in the second half.
Russell once again found ways to impact the game with his long-range shooting, weaving through a forest of screens to get loose for a three-pointer:
He also did some damage up close and personal at the basket:
And there were moments where both elements of his scoring prowess came together gloriously, with Russell using the threat of his penetration to free up a kick-out that allowed him to spring free for a huge, momentum-swinging corner three:
One win over the injury-riddled Clippers doesn’t fix all of the Lakers’ problems. The team has still been atrocious defensively this month, and has plenty left to work on, a reality that isn’t lost on their hoped-for franchise cornerstone.
"I'm trying to figure it out. I'm trying to figure out what I can do to keep us on top when we make that big run going into the half,” Russell said. “I'm trying to figure it out a little bit."
Once he and the Lakers do figure things out, they’ll be pesky and dangerous against a lot more teams than just the Clippers’ glorified second unit.
All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet or Lakers.com unless otherwise cited. All stats and video per NBA.com or Spectrum Sportsnet. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here, or listen to our thoughts on the Lakers’ big win below), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen: