In the first half on Thursday night, it looked like the Los Angeles Lakers were headed for another hideous, low-effort win against the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers led most of the way, to be sure, but without LeBron James, it didn’t look like they were going to make it easy on themselves.
Then the third quarter happened. After some halftime adjustments from head coach Frank Vogel and starting point guard Rajon Rondo, the Lakers relentlessly attacked the basket to take advantage of the undermanned Warriors at the rim, ultimately winning 116-86.
Heading into the game, the question was if the Lakers could find some ways to succeed without their star. In the third quarter, they found their answer: Plenty of pick and rolls with Rondo and JaVale McGee, and playing against the Warriors.
(I kid, I kid — sort of — on that second one)
That third frame was where the Lakers turned things around, though. Thanks to a couple of dunks from McGee, constant effort on the break from Kyle Kuzma, defensive hustle from Anthony Davis (who finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and some heady driving and diming from Rondo, the Lakers outscored Golden State 40-17 in the period.
And while Rondo doesn’t get a lot of love from Lakers fans — or on this site — credit where credit is due. After a rough first half, the veteran point guard locked in and led the Lakers to a James-less win for the second time in three tries this season.
Even if this all sort of serves as an argument he really shouldn’t be playing with James at all if the Lakers want to fully optimize their lineups, it made Rondo far more useful than normal tonight, and the team may not have won this game without his 12-point, 6-assist and 2-steal effort. Shouts to Jared Dudley for (sort of) calling it.
Kuzma was also integral to the win tonight, stepping up in James’ absence to finish with an efficient 18 points. Like Rondo, this sort of serves the argument that he looks far more comfortable playing with just one star than two, but there isn’t really much the Lakers can do about that, and Kuzma will just have to continue to bring the same mentality when he’s not getting to shoot so much.
This victory moves the Lakers to 45-12 on the year, and the team will now have Friday off before they continue their road trip with a weekend back-to-back against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday and New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. Until then, enjoy this one, as for a team that has faced monumental struggles without James on the floor, this is basically free money.