The Los Angeles Lakers were able to steal a win on the road against the Boston Celtics on Thursday in part because of the defense they played on Kyrie Irving — or should I say because of the defense Brandon Ingram played on Irving.
In 35 minutes against the Lakers, Irving scored 24 points on 6-21 shooting from the field (28.6 percent). That is his third-worst field goal percentage in any game this season, according to basketball-reference.
In the nine possessions Irving was guarded by Ingram, Irving shot 2-8 from the field and turned the ball over twice, as noted by Lakers digital reporter Joey Ramirez. Ingram’s effort on defense earned him praise from his head coach, Luke Walton, and LeBron James following the game.
Kyrie Irving when guarded by Brandon Ingram: 2-for-7 with 2 turnovers— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) February 8, 2019
LeBron: "His defense throughout the night on Kyrie and a lot of those guys was exceptional."
Luke Walton: “His defensive effort on Kyrie — who’s nearly impossible to guard — all game long was incredible.” pic.twitter.com/SsyUZ3SBLV
Even Irving himself felt compelled to single out his fellow Duke Blue Devil for making life hard on him on Thursday:
Kyrie: "Being guarded by Brandon Ingram most of the game, I can’t even lie to you guys, those guys on the defensive end are unusual. Driving lanes that I see against every other team, they were closing down the lane."— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) February 8, 2019
However, Ingram’s defensive performance has more to do with Walton’s defensive scheme than Ingram’s ability as a defender.
Despite having the wingspan of a well-aged oak tree, Ingram actually hasn’t been that great on defense this season, even if the “eye test” suggests otherwise.
Through 55 games this season, Ingram has posted a defensive rating of 107.1, which is only slightly better than Kyle Kuzma (108.3), who isn’t exactly known for being a stout defender. He and Kuzma are also the only players in the Lakers’ starting lineup that don’t have a positive defensive real plus-minus.
And yet, the Lakers are still ranked 10th in the league in defensive rating because Walton’s defensive scheme allows Ingram to use his length to cut off passing lanes and disrupt shots, even the ones he’s late to.
Walton deserves to be criticized for the Lakers’ often stagnant offense, but he should also get credit for the way they’ve improved defensively over the last two years.
Regardless of who’s given credit for their rapid defensive progression though, the Lakers are going to need to to maintain that production as the season goes on if they want to sneak into the playoffs. The Lakers are a team that likes to run in transition, and the best way to create looks in transition is by forcing turnovers with — you guessed it — defense.