The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the New York Knicks 90-87 on Sunday night when Joes Calderon hit a game-winning three-pointer to break the tie between the two teams with 0.2 seconds left. Noticeably missing from the floor on that last play were the Lakers young core of Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle. In fact, those three players combined to play a grand total of zero minutes in the fourth and final quarter as the Lakers opted to close with veteran guard Lou Williams and 32-year old rookie Marcelo Huertas in the backcourt and rookie Larry Nance, Jr. in Randle's typical power forward slot.
After the game, Lakers head coach Byron Scott explained why in a lengthy answer that revealed his thought process on the importance of wins and the development of young players.
"The fourth quarter was based on those guys [in the second unit] were playing well. They were playing the right way, they were playing well, [and] they got us back into the game, said Scott. "So at that particular point I said I'm going to roll with them and let them finish the game. See if they can get us the W."
While some would then question whether or not a win (that the Lakers ultimately did not get anyway) was more valuable than the chance for those three player players to get development time in the fourth quarter of a close game, Scott would answer the former.
"They have had enough experience [closing games] so far. I really, truly believe that," Scott continued. "And I think sometimes they got to understand that when that unit is in there playing well, sometimes I am going to go with them."
"Like I said before, the first thing is you try and win games. The second thing is obviously for you to try and develop our young guys, but they can't expect every single night that they are not playing well that they're going to still play in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. If the second unit is playing well, like they did tonight, then I'm going to roll with them sometimes."
To be fair to Scott, none of that trio of them were having a standout game, but given that the Lakers have nothing to play for other than lottery odds at this point, winning the game would seem to be of little importance. It's one thing for the team to win if it comes on the back of strong nights from Russell, Randle, and Clarkson with supplementary performances from guys like Williams and Huertas, but it's another thing entirely to grind out a win on the backs of those two veterans.
The Lakers have fifteen games left in their season, and while Kobe Bryant is going to be a stalwart in any close game's closing lineup, Clarkson, Russell, and Randle should be getting as many reps in those types of situations as possible before the season comes to a close. There is no magic number of "enough" experience for them in closing out games, and whatever amount they get will certainly provide the Lakers with more long term value than the same playing time going to anyone else on the roster.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen. All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com