The Los Angeles Lakers opened a daunting four-game road trip with a stirring win over the Philadelphia 76ers, the game won off the fingertips of Brandon Ingram. The Lakers’ second-year wing calmly drained the game-winning three on the road, leaving the Sixers just .8 to work with. Game over.
The Lakers gave another double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, a position they’ve been in several times this season. LA started the final frame up 82-70, but the Sixers managed to cut it down to a one-possession game with five minutes left in regulation.
Fast forward, and the game is decided by Ingram sinking a dagger off of a nice dish from Lonzo Ball, 107-104. The outcome was the right one for the Lakers, but one that was far too close for comfort.
“I think before we even get to that,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton started when asked about the game-winning shot, “I think it's important to give credit to our guys for you know... that game felt a lot like the Denver game to me, where we had control for a lot of it, and then the home team tightened up their defense.
“We got out of sorts a little bit. The difference was tonight we ended up getting some stops.”
It was a defensive possession from Julius Randle matched up against Joel Embiid as the clock counted down the final seconds of the game that created the opportunity for the Lakers to win. Randle got the stop, the Lakers got the rebound, and the rest is history:
The story — Julius making key defensive plays down the stretch — is the same one that played out against the Golden State Warriors a few weeks ago. This time, however, the chapter ended with the Lakers winning after the big stop.
But before we go tearing up the court to see what Lonzo and Ingram do, let’s rewind a little further back. Randle may not have the height or wingspan to match up against Embiid, but Julius played him as well as he could and absolutely bothered him.
The following possession is the kind of thing that shouldn’t be overlooked in how the Lakers managed to close this game out. This was another key defensive play that built up to the big shot from Ingram:
“Just make his catches tough, force him out as far as I can. Don't send him to the line, keep my hands off him and just use my feet,” Randle said of what he tried to do to slow Embiid down.
“I wasn't going to let him get me the same way. He's probably from the center position the toughest guard in the league. Last time I was mad at myself letting him on the line,” Julius said.
Randle’s defensive work on Embiid in the final minutes of the game was certainly one of the keys to the Lakers salvaging their victory Thursday night. Embiid scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, but six of those points were from the charity stripe. Another six were from three-pointers he caught the Lakers on the chin with. One basket came against Brook Lopez, while another directly against Randle.
This is the lone field goal Embiid made in the fourth against Julius:
It wasn’t a complete shut down, but Randle continues to show a knack for coming up big in the clutch defensively. Holding his ground in the miss that turned into the game-winner was key in LA securing the W.
“Obviously Julius made some nice defensive plays, and when we got that loose ball, it was Zo and BI on the same right side of the court with me,” Walton said, moving on to the game-winner itself.
Coach Luke has been preaching turning defense into offense since Day 1, and with the game on the line, that’s what the Lakers managed to do. It wasn’t the advantage of fast break speed they used to accomplish this, but the chaos of Philly’s scrambling transition defense.
“The [Sixers] looked like they weren’t back in transition, so those are probably our two best decision makers, we let them ride it out, they both made unselfish plays. Good recognition by Zo.”
Ball would pass up what was an open-but-maybe-not-for-long three with Embiid closing in quickly, opting to drive into the paint. The Sixers turned to close in on his dribble penetration, in turn leaving Ingram in position to bring the win home for LA:
That truly was a “choose your own adventure” sequence, with Ingram and Ball picking the right combination of answers to get them the conclusion they sought. Lonzo selected “drive and kick to Ingram for the last shot” and the Lakers were awarded once the ball sailed through the net.
Will that be the answer for the Lakers long-term?
“That's something that I want to be and something that I dream to be on this team,” Ingram said when asked if he feels like he’s becoming the Lakers’ closer. “Every time I step out on the floor I just have the confidence to try to close the game.”
“To put it in perspective, I do think I am,” Ingram concluded.
*All quotes transcribed via Spectrum SportsNet