Every once in a while, a team needs a good verbal hiding from their head coach.
On Tuesday, after a dismal first-half performance against an undermanned Kings side that had only recently fired head coach Luke Walton, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel had a...colorful discussion with his team at halftime.
“Every now and then, a coach has to light a fire under his team,” Vogel said. “And today was one of those games. We weren’t giving the necessary effort in transition defense, and with our pick and roll coverages, which we talked specifically about tightening the screws on all day. At shootaround, pregame, and it wasn’t there in the first half. So sometimes you have to let them hear about it, and it was a spirited halftime, and those guys responded.”
The hiding was necessary and the response was impressive as the Lakers put forth their best half of the season, outscoring the host Kings 67-33 en route to their most comfortable win of the season, 117-92. It was a beating so comprehensive that it led Sacramento interim head coach Alvin Gentry to apologize to the fans after the loss.
“At halftime we had a conversation about the team that we want to be,” Anthony Davis said. “We’ve got to buckle down on the defensive end, and we were able to do that, hold them to 15, 18... That’s the way we’ve got to start the games, though. If we start the games with that defensive presence, we’ll be a very good team.”
The team the Lakers decided to be was one that suffocated the Kings defensively while catching fire offensively, knocking down eight of their 17 attempts from 3-point range while not allowing a single one from the Kings on 11 attempts.
On both ends of the court, one of the sparks of the second half was Malik Monk. It was his half-court heave that beat the second quarter buzzer and sent the Lakers into the locker room with some momentum. In the second half, he built on that himself by going 6/9 from the field and 4/5 from the 3-point line, scoring a team-high 16 points in the half while finishing with a mind-boggling plus-minus of +41 in the third and fourth quarters alone.
Since 1996-97, only three players have had a +/- of at least +41 in a half in either the regular season or playoffs— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) December 1, 2021
- Malik Monk (+41) on Tuesday
- LeBron James (+41) vs. ATL, 11/17/19
- Kevin Durant (+43) vs. CHI, 10/29/18
- LeBron James (+41) vs. BOS, 5/19/17
“We picked the energy up,” Monk said. “We were too lazy. We wasn’t getting back. We was acting like we didn’t care, and he just told us to pick the energy up if we wanted to win. And that’s what happened.”
While Monk provided the scoring punch, it was Westbrook who continued his strong run of form as well in that second half. He did a bit of everything, as he is one to do, scoring 15 points with four rebounds, four assists and a steal as the straw that stirred the drink for the team’s incredible 40-8 run that stretched from early in the third quarter into the fourth.
After the game, Westbrook spoke about that halftime speech from Vogel and the impact it had on him and the team in the second half.
“I think for the team it was good,” Westbrook said. “It got guys going, it got their minds right. But honestly, for me personally, I already knew I was playing shitty, so I knew I had to step it up anyway for us to have a better chance to win the game, so that’s why there are two halves in this game, and the tale of two halves will tell the difference in tonight’s game.”
Dwight Howard served as another spark off the bench as well, going from a player not expected to play on the night to one that finished with a plus-minus of +30 in 23 second-half minutes. A member of the title-winning Lakers in 2019-20, Howard said the team needed the halftime reality check on the night.
“Coach was pretty upset, you know? But I think his whole point was ‘stop talking about wanting to win a championship and not giving the correct effort,’” Howard said. “And he’s right. he’s spot-on. You can’t keep saying ‘we want to win, we want to accomplish these different things’ if we’re not willing to put in the work. And we have to play together, and in the second half, I think we did that. I think that was one of the best third quarters we’ve had all year, and it’s because of the energy. The energy was all in the right place. Everybody knew what the odds were and what we were facing. It was an embarrassing loss the first time we played these guys, and before the game, coach said ‘this is a revenge game.’ And in the second half we just came out with a lot of energy and intensity on the defensive end, which allowed our guys like Russ and AD to get downhill and get to the basket and open everything up for our shooters.
“So we’ve got to continue to play defense like this for the rest of the season, but one game at a time. One game at a time. We’ve got to build on tonight, and the effort that we had. The communication that we had was probably the best it’s been all season. We’re missing one of our vocal leaders in LeBron, who is steady communicating on the floor, so it was great to see everybody step up tonight and communicate.”
There are some obvious questions that originate from the situation, like why a veteran Lakers team would need a talk like this. There are also plenty of fair questions as to why their first-quarter performances have cratered even as their third-quarter performances have improved.
In their last 10 games, the Lakers rank 25th in the league in terms of first quarter net rating (-6.6).— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 1, 2021
However, they've improved dramatically in the 3rd quarter after struggling for a majority of the season, ranking 4th best during this time span (+14.9). 1st in the last five.
Davis — who himself had 12 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in the second half on Tuesday — made that very point following the win.
“We came out slow, but we were able to play with a lead, which is a good sign,” Davis said. “Not letting teams get back in it. We kept the pressure on, on both ends of the floor. We continued to score the basketball. We continued to get stops defensively. We’ve struggled with that this year. And so that was a good sign for us, but like I said, we shouldn’t need those pow-wows at halftime or in timeouts... We’ve got a veteran group. We should be able to come out with that type of energy. I know we’re going to (sometimes) have slow starts and things like that, but to be the team that we want to be, we can’t continue to dig ourselves a hole. So if we come out in first halves, especially next game against the Clippers, the way we came out in this second half in games going forward? Then we should be in a pretty good place.”
Whether the Lakers learn from Tuesday’s halftime wake-up call will be the important takeaway moving forward. But that they responded for the victory against Sacramento is equally important as the team looks to continue building momentum this season.