The Lakers wiped out a promising first half by revisiting their early-season habit of collapsing in the third quarter, but their best defensive stretch in a long while coupled with a fantastic fourth quarter from Stanley Johnson led to a much-needed, 101-95, come-from-behind victory over the Utah Jazz.
LeBron James looked more comfortable on offense than he has over the past few days, scoring 25 points while also notching 7 rebounds and acting as the primary facilitator with 7 assists. But on this night he wasn’t a one-man show: He got some help from Russell Westbrook, Johnson, and a variety of other Lakers role players to get what was almost inarguably the team’s best win of the year.
James promised the team would show more effort after their embarrassing blowout vs. Denver, and on Monday, that promise was kept.
Frank Vogel turned to his 22nd lineup of the season so far — in the Lakers’ 44th game — countering Utah’s size with a frontcourt of Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza alongside James at small forward and Avery Bradley in the backcourt with Westbrook.
The Lakers responded with more energy on defense than they’ve shown in several games from both the veteran starters and the young bench unit of Stanley Johnson, Malik Monk, Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves. Combine that with the Jazz coming in on the second half of a back-to-back — the first of which was in the high altitude of Denver — and L.A. allowed just 46 points in the first half while forcing 11 turnovers.
The Lakers’ 52 points in the half, meanwhile, were punctuated by a massive (and seemingly emotionally cathartic) dunk for Russ, who let out weeks of frustration with his hammer over Rudy Gobert that was so violent that France may have considered it an act of war, earning a technical foul for his explosive celebration afterward.
Westbrook had with 15 points on the night, finishing in style with a coast-to-coast finger roll — also over Gobert — to ice it for the Lakers.
RUSS ENDED RUDY AT THE RIM pic.twitter.com/KqqNpTejkl— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 18, 2022
But the Jazz, led by Donovan Mitchell, erupted for an 8-0 run early in the third to tie the game, then a 12-2 run to take a double-digit lead at the end of a third quarter that resembled the Lakers’ shoddy performances coming out of halftime early in the season. Utah outscored the purple and gold 32-20 in the third, completely turning the game around and even building a double-digit lead at one point.
The Lakers rallied, however, thanks to James and a surprising wingman: Johnson. The Southern California native — who just returned on his third 10-day contract — had arguably his best offensive game as a Laker, as 10 of his 15 points came on a 15-2 Lakers run in the fourth quarter to put L.A. back up by four as he attacked Gobert off the dribble, easily shooting in the open space the three-time Defensive Player of the Year allowed him.
In don’t know how sustainable this is, but Stanley Johnson being guarded by Gobert has unlocked him (PnR forced Clarkson to switch on him), and this inside hand finish was a pleasant surprise pic.twitter.com/MyNeTi5F2a— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) January 18, 2022
Stanley Johnson, to @DanWoikeSports, on what gave him the confidence to attack Gobert.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 18, 2022
"I think if you watch basketball the last couple years, some teams have had success attacking him with smaller guys off the bounce."
Says LeBron told him to attack that matchup.
Johnson’s two-man game with James worked superbly, as the former Mater Dei High School standout once again made the case for his hometown team to sign him for the rest of the season. He also had a key assist on an Avery Bradley three-pointer to keep the Lakers pull away with just over two minutes remaining. The Jazz never truly threatened again, scoring just 17 points in the final quarter.
The Lakers will now get Tuesday off before hosting the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. The good news may keep coming for the Lakers, too, as Anthony Davis is set to get his sprained MCL reevaluated by team doctors at tonight’s game, so an update on him should be coming shortly.