The Lakers haven’t gotten a ton of good injury news this season, and that’s putting it mildly. After all this is a team that was forced to play a game with just eight active, full-time NBA players on its roster last week, but thankfully, the return of Talen Horton-Tucker on Sunday offered — at least for the moment — a brief respite from those woes.
Horton-Tucker had missed the team’s previous 11 games while recovering from right thumb surgery he underwent during training camp, but if he hadn’t been wearing a light, protective brace in his first start of the season, it would have been hard to notice he’d missed any time. The third-year guard showed why the team invested in him so heavily this offseason in his return, scoring 17 points on 50% shooting and offering stout defense on the other end of the floor.
As one might expect given that production, he was scarcely even thinking about his surgically repaired digit.
“I’m just getting better now. They were telling me that if I felt like I was going to re-injure my thumb, or if I felt any way like that I shouldn’t play, so I wasn’t really thinking about my thumb while I was out there,” Horton-Tucker said. “I was just trying to play. I was trying to block shots with my right hand, just doing everything. So just being able to just play with a free mind was great for me.”
To Horton-Tucker’s point, he certainly did not appear to be affected by the thumb on defense:
Below is what Frank Vogel had to say about THT's role/expectations on defense prior to the game, including helping check bigger players w/ his 7'1" wingspan.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) November 15, 2021
Notice how despite giving up height, he's still able to contest on this Thad Young switch/post-uphttps://t.co/c1gNkWfeOd pic.twitter.com/M9hv0K0lkT
Or on offense, where he was right back to his trademark brand of acrobatic finishes with his almost comically dominant right hand:
And there is also perhaps the greatest evidence that Horton-Tucker was not worried about his thumb: Sticking it in Drew Eubanks’ face after a rim collision in the third quarter, something that upset Eubanks so much he earned himself a technical foul:
If he’s willing to risk having his hand slapped away by an angry opposing player, then yeah, he’s probably feeling a lot better.
This is obviously all great news for the Lakers, who have really been missing the type of dynamic rim attacking and shot creation that Horton-Tucker provided in his return to the lineup. Sunday was just one game, but if he can continue to play like he’s feeling no ill affects from his offseason surgery, then the Lakers will be in much better shape moving forward.