On paper, the Lakers should not have needed a remarkable comeback against the Pistons on Sunday to earn a 121-116 win. Facing one of the worst teams in the league, a Lakers side still with title aspirations should have made quick work on the evening.
But for a variety of reasons ranging from a fight, ejections and a general lack of urgency on the night, the Lakers trailed by 15 points entering the fourth quarter. It was there that Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis seized control of the game and led the Lakers back to a victory.
Again, with the caveat that the Pistons are likely going to be fighting for better lottery odds than a playoff spot, Davis and Westbrook played off one another as well as they had all season long, perhaps the most encouraging long-term takeaway from the fourth quarter and game as a whole.
Their two-man game didn’t really start to show until the middle of the period after both played big rolls in getting the game to within single digits early on. As the quarter went on, the Pistons began doing as many other teams have done in recent games and doubled Davis.
After taking inventory of the defensive approach from Detroit on the preceding possession, Westbrook throws an entry pass and cuts off Davis as his defender stays to double.
The result was the easiest basket of the night for Westbrook as he was wide open under the bucket. Less than a minute later, Westbrook runs through the same sequence again, but this time the Pistons react which causes a brief hesitation from Westbrook.
While Westbrook turned the ball over on the play, put him in that position repeatedly and he’ll make the right decision far, far more often than not. Case in point a number of possessions later when Westbrook throws an entry pass, immediately cuts and gets an open layup to tie the game.
The Lakers still will be at their best when they’re able to run and Davis and Westbrook complement each other in that regard here. After Westbrook intercepts a pass and pushes up the court, Davis rim runs from the far baseline down the center of the court. Westbrook rewards his big man by finding him for the easy dunk and lead.
After a failed pick and roll, Westbrook gives the ball to Davis in the post and cuts through. The Pistons finally adjust their defensive approach, only it doesn’t matter because Davis is fully in rhythm at this point and he knocks down the midrange jumper.
The Lakers continue finding ways to toy with the Pistons defense. With all eyes on them and three players attempting to stop their ball screen, Westbrook kicks out to Talen Horton-Tucker who attacks the open lane and finishes at the rim on a play that should have been an and-one.
Davis caps off the comeback with one of the best sequences of the season. Cade Cunningham continued Detroit’s bizarre offensive approach in the fourth quarter of attacking Davis with absolutely no success.
Davis blocks Cunnigham’s jumper, then stays with him on the drive and blocks him again. He and Westbrook then immediately go into a ballscreen action, Westbrook gets to the rim and lays off a beautiful wrap-around pass to Davis who finishes to effectively end the game.
In total, Davis and Westbrook scored 27 of the team’s 37 points in the fourth quarter. Westbrook had six assists while Davis did just about everything else, finishing with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and three blocks in the fourth quarter alone.
What’s most encouraging, though, is that the chemistry built between Westbrook and Davis isn’t negated because it came against Detroit. Learning how to play off one another is important for Davis and Westbrook and the more reps they get at that, the better.
And the way they found success together is translatable. If teams continue to double Davis as they have in recent games, Westbrook learning how to take advantage of that will force them to change their approach. Similarly, any time they can build the chemistry in the pick and roll is equally valuable.
No matter how much James is and isn’t available moving forward, the Lakers will have plenty of Davis and Westbrook minutes. Those two showcased how deadly they can be together, which should have Lakers fans excited regardless if it came against the Pistons or not.