The Lakers took care of business on Friday, beating the Bucks 133-129 in what pretty easily qualifies as their best win of this young season. Led by a season-high 43 points from Anthony Davis, 28 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds from LeBron James and 15 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds from Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles outdueled Milwaukee on national TV and started their road trip off right.
The game started even and balanced, with marginal differences in rebounds, shooting percentage and score differential between both teams. After one, the Lakers had the edge, 33-31. Davis started the game off by taking the challenge vs. Giannis Antetokonmpo head-on, scoring 13 points in just nine minutes of play. The Lakers matched speed with the Bucks and applied pressure every time they had a burst of production, with lots of double-teaming Giannis and great half-court defense to start the game.
The second quarter was the Westbrook show. He was the spark plug of the offense energizing the team. On a night when LeBron needed (and got) nine assists to pass Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in helpers, Russ led the team with eight assists at the half.
When Russ exited and took a rest at the seven-minute mark, AD returned to the floor, and it was the Lakers that looked like title contenders. They went on a 13-0 run and took the life out of the crowd while Giannis watched from the bench.
Bucks head coach and Darvin Ham’s former boss, Mike Budenholzer, finally brought Giannis back in during the final minute of the half and his impact was felt immediately. He drove to the basket and made a layup; then Bobby Portis hit a three thanks to a Giannis assist. The Bucks were down by as many as 14 but cut the lead to eight. Still, the Lakers were right where they wanted to be, up at the half on the road, scoring 66 points (the most the Bucks have given up in a half all season).
To start the second half, the Bucks shot lights out from deep. They hit five 3-pointers and took the lead 79-77 at the seven-minute mark. Desperately needing a response, Lonnie Walkers IV stepped up. He scored five of his 14 in the quarter, including an exclamation point dunk to kill Milwaukee’s momentum and keep the Bucks at bay.
Up by four entering the fourth, the game was up for grabs. Early in the quarter, James suffered another injury to his ankle when the returning Khris Middleton landed on his leg. With it being just a one-possession game, James opted to stay in, tie his shoe tighter and just keep playing. James stayed aggressive while looking for open teammates. He only needed two assists in the fourth to pass Magic and he did just that when he assisted AD on a three with just under nine minutes left in the game.
The day will come when LeBron can no longer heal himself by tying his shoes tighter BUT THAT DAY IS NOT TODAY! BK— Kamenetzky Brothers (@KamBrothers) December 3, 2022
Then Giannis reminded people why he is an MVP-caliber player. He blocked a James layup, an AD dunk attempt and slammed it home to even the game up with six minutes left. The closing minutes were as close as you get to playoff energy during the regular season.
Russell Westbrook. All Effort. pic.twitter.com/MwtjYwTj9z— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) December 3, 2022
Both teams exchanged baskets while the Lakers relied on the trio of Bron, Russ and AD to lead the way. Tonight, it was the Lakers who won the battle with crucial baskets from LeBron and a late rebound from AD. The deciding play of the night involved all three, with Russ hustling for a loose ball, James picking it up and AD finishing with a dunk to secure the win. The Lakers improved to 9-12 on the season, gutting out a much-needed victory against an NBA Finals favorite to start their long road trip.
Anthony Davis is good at basketball. It wasn’t just his season-high 43 points. It was his aggression in the fourth, his willingness to shoot the three (and actually making them, going 2-3 from deep), and his rebounding that led to this victory. The Lakers have expressed that they need more time to judge this group. Performances like tonight make the case that there may just be a good team in here.