Down 12 points heading into the fourth quarter, and missing four rotation players—including LeBron James, who was a late scratch with ankle soreness—the Lakers rallied to beat the the San Antonio Spurs in overtime, 125-121. They were able to pull out the victory mainly because their other two superstars, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis, were ready to pick up the slack for James offensively.
Westbrook and Davis were unstoppable in the paint, combining for 68 of the Lakers’ points, and got some help from Malik Monk, who had 17 points and was a team-high +31 in his first start as a Laker. But L.A. couldn’t keep up with the Spurs’ hot shooting and the Lakers’ defensive woes also cropped up in the paint, as the team had no answer for Jakob Poetl’s pick-and-roll play, which netted the San Antonio center a career and team-high 27 points.
He was one of four Spurs with 19 or more points, as L.A.’s team defense as a whole continued to struggle.
But Westbrook had his best game as a Laker on offense, attacking the paint with ease as the Lakers’ primary ballhandler in James’ absence. As our own Christian Rivas wrote before the game, it was a return to a more typical style of Russ ball, as he took advantage of being the only paint-penetrating superstar on the court for the Lakers. Westbrook finished with a season-high 33 points to go with 10 rebounds and a team-high 8 assists, punctuated with a massive slam and classic Russ-esque flex and mean mug in overtime.
Davis had another tough night with his jump shot, but made up for it by punishing the Spurs inside with a team-high 35-point performance (15-31 shooting) to go along with 17 rebounds and 4 blocks. Davis gave Lakers fans a heart attack when he crumpled to the floor holding his right knee after going up for a contested rebound late in the fourth, but remained in the game despite being in obvious pain initially, and closed out the Spurs with a dominant effort in overtime, so his injury is likely — hopefully — not very serious.
With James out, Vogel leaned on Westbrook and Rajon Rondo to facilitate the Lakers’ offense, and L.A. did not play a minute without one or both veteran guards on the floor. The results were mixed. When both played, the Spurs took advantage of the limited spacing to clog the paint against the Lakers and used some hot long-range shooting from Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker to enter halftime with a 62-61 lead.
The two teams continued to trade blows in the third quarter as the Spurs’ outside shot-making and fast-break scoring kept pace with the Lakers’ ability to attack the paint. But San Antoni went on a 18-3 run to close the quarter as Walker caught fire, scoring 11 unanswered points on his own to go up 97-85 heading into the fourth.
But the Lakers stormed back in the fourth as Westbrook and Davis continued to find success punishing the paint on offense while the Davis and Dwight Howard duo clogged up the interior on defense, going on a 14-3 run to get right back in the game. Howard in particular provided a huge defensive spark for the Lakers off the bench, resembling the player who was such a crucial part of the team’s title run two years ago. He was a +12 in 18 minutes with 6 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal, showing how an extra center can benefit the Lakers defensively in the right matchups.
The Lakers will face a quick turnaround before their next one, as they head to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder on Wednesday for the second night of a back-to-back. James is questionable for that one (and Davis’ status may be up in the air as well), but with or without him, this team showed tonight that despite some hiccups, they can play competitive basketball if The King needs to sit. That’s a big part of the logic in trading for a third star in Westbrook, and in his first test, he delivered.