It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled defensively this season. The team has the second-worst defensive efficiency in the league (thanks Portland!), giving up 109.8 points per 100 possessions.
That poor play didn’t matter for the Lakers in their win over the LA Clippers on Christmas night. Or, at least not in the third quarter, when the Lakers’ ripped off a 15-2 run thanks to some stifling defense.
“We didn't do anything crazy, we just played fundamentally sound defense,” Walton said of that third period after the Lakers’ practice on Monday. “We communicated, we didn't give up transition baskets which we gave up a ton of in the first half, and we held a great offensive team to 18 points in the third.
“I thought our switching defense when we got to that was as good as it's been,” Walton continued. “We had a couple off-ball switches that we worked on that can get tricky that we did successfully.
“That [third quarter] was the highlight of the game for me.”
The quarter was one of the Lakers’ best extended stretches of defense this season. The team posted a defensive rating of 70.3 in the third, meaning the Clippers scored at a rate that would have equaled 70.3 points per 100 possessions in that quarter, and it was enough for the team to get their first win over their cross-hall rival in three years.
“I think we've proven to ourselves that when we're locked in, especially defensively, we're capable of playing with any team in this league,” Walton said.
So why haven’t the Lakers done so consistently? Is effort an issue?
“Not the effort, the effort is always there with us,” Walton said. “The execution has to be more consistent.”
Some of that inconsistency is due to the youth of the Lakers, something Walton recalled struggling with himself.
“I remember back when I was a rookie Phil would call out coverages for sets and I had no idea what set he was talking about,” the Lakers coach recalled. “Now it's common sense because there are universal sets that are run in this league, but it takes time to go though it and play against it and to really be able to understand it.”
But not all of the Lakers’ struggles can be chalked up to simple inexperience.
“Some of it is definitely youth, but not enough to where we can use that as an excuse and be okay with it,” Walton said.
The Lakers coaches shouldn’t be okay with it, because continuing to point out to the players what they did wrong and how they can improve is the only way they’re going to get better.
Those efforts likely won’t be rewarded with immediate or consistent dividends, but when it all comes together for the Lakers like it did in the third quarter last night, it’s easy to see why Walton considers it a highlight.