Remember when everyone thought games in the NBA bubble would be sloppy, rusty affairs? Well, if you were hoping for that, or just miss the days when professional basketball games were defensive slugfests on a nightly basis, the Lakers’ Saturday night matchup against the Toronto Raptors was for you.
For three quarters, the defending champs and the team that hopes to take their place went punch for counterpunch. The Raptors would go on a lengthy run to build a lead, then the Lakers would go small to counter with a burst of scoring of their own. In the end though, the Lakers ran out of comeback efforts. The Raptors delivered one final knockout punch in the fourth, taking final control of the game with a flurry of buckets and stops to win 107-92.
This is the second consecutive game to start the resumed season in which the Lakers couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, setting a season-low in field-goal percentage (35.8%) for the second game in a row. Against an incredibly stout Raptors defense, they just didn’t take enough advantage of the few open opportunities they had.
Speaking of missing shots, normally, the Lakers’ starting lineup has been a strength for them. But on a night when Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope couldn’t get anything to fall (going a combined 2-14 from the field, and both made shots were from Caldwell-Pope) and JaVale McGee looked out of sorts, the first five couldn’t punish the Raptors for selling out to stop Anthony Davis defensively. Toronto’s plan worked well, holding Davis nearly scoreless in the first half if not for a technical free-throw. Their pressure clearly bothered the Lakers across the roster, leading to 17 turnovers from the purple and gold.
It was the Lakers’ bench that kept them in this one, outscoring the Raptors’ reserves 50-15. That’s a rare bench explosion that will now go to waste, because it just wasn’t enough against a Toronto team with an engaged, tenacious defense on a night where the Lakers just clearly didn’t have their legs, and they definitely still have some work to do to regain their rhythm and conditioning moving forward.
The Lakers will get their next chance to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference on Monday, when they’ll take on the Utah Jazz. In the meantime, they’ll need to flush the tape from this one, get back in the gym and hope this particularly bad matchup for them doesn’t make it to the NBA Finals, because the Raptors are legitimately good, and that would be a long, exhausting series.