Just as everyone expected, the same Los Angeles Lakers who lost outright to the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers before allowing the Chicago Bulls to make things interesting late in their last game went out and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in overtime, 138-128.
Things didn’t start out on such a positive path. Midway through the first quarter, Luke Walton was asked by Allie LaForce of TNT what was hurting the Lakers as they seemingly walked into the gym down double digits and his answer was simple: They weren’t competing.
Walton brought in the bench unit, and the team started caring. The Lakers fought back into the game and competed throughout with Oklahoma City, who went into Thursday night with a 14-6 home record. This was an impressive effort.
But as usual, the Lakers couldn’t make things easy on themselves. With the game all but decided, Russell Westbrook dribbled across half-court and Ball committed one of the worst fouls you’ll see all year, allowing Westbrook to go to the line for three free-throws and the tie. He would make all three, forcing overtime. Because of course.
In overtime however, Ball and the Lakers showed veteran poise, executing their offense for clean looks almost every time down the court. Given the lack of experience on the court (the lineup was Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac), and the team they were going against, their execution was quite the development.
Kyle Kuzma shot the ball incredibly well from deep (even if he was forcing things a bit elsewhere on the court), hitting a career-high seven 3-pointers en route to 32 points.
And while this was the second straight game Walton went with Tyson Chandler in JaVale McGee’s place in the starting lineup, it was Ivica Zubac who stepped up in a big way, as the Lakers desperately needed productive minutes from the center spot and the third-year big man finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
Overall, this is one of the best games the Lakers have played this season, and certainly one of their best without LeBron James. Going into that arena and putting up 138 points against the league’s best defense is impressive. They’ll be looking to build on this as they head to Houston to take on the Rockets on Saturday.