On most nights this season, the starters for the Los Angeles Lakers have just hoped the team’s bench unit would stay afloat when they sat. But Saturday night, on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers, Rajon Rondo put up 17 points, 6 assists, 10 rebounds and 2 steals to help the bench key an effort that ended L.A.’s 16-game losing streak against the Blazers while securing a 114-110 win on the road.
In a first half in which every single Lakers starter was a negative in plus-minus, Rondo was a bright spot for the team, finishing the half with a team-high plus-minus of +19 by giving L.A. 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists on 4-5 shooting.
Rondo’s play helped keep the Lakers in the game while the starting lineup sat, and then he and the rest of the bench unit went off again in the third quarter, ending the period on a 16-2 run to take a 88-73 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth, Kyle Kuzma made a weakside rotation to block Caleb Swanigan’s layup attempt, triggering a fast break on which Rondo found Josh Hart for a corner three right in front of the Blazers’ bench, giving the Lakers a 20-point lead and appearing to crack the game wide open.
But while things looked set to be simple from there, the Lakers never make things simple. As has been his wont against the Lakers for his whole career, Damian Lillard (30 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals) went supernova in the fourth quarter, leading Portland all the way back and cutting the Lakers’ lead to 103-97 with 3:34 left to play.
Josh Hart (12 points on 3-3 shooting) and LeBron James (28 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds) kept trading baskets with C.J. McCollum after that, and then JaVale McGee (12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocks) and James got back-to-back blocks on the Blazers before the Lakers finally secured a rebound on a McCollum three.
But then tempers flared as Hart and Jusuf Nurkic got into a disagreement, and a foul was called on McGee, giving Nurkic two free throws, of which he made one and cut the Lakers’ lead to five.
Hot potato on the other end led to a deep three from James, but McGee secured the offensive rebound, and on the ensuing possession, James dropped it off to McGee for an easy lay in to secure the win for the Lakers.
The Lakers (4-5) won’t have long to celebrate before their next contest, as they’ll fly home to host the Toronto Raptors in Staples Center on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. local time. We’ll see you there.