Entering the fourth, the Lakers were dead in the water. They couldn’t grab a rebound, convert on a 3-pointer and were down by 12. Desperately trying to avoid going 0-2 yet again to start a season, they opted to start the period with Christian Wood alongside Anthony Davis.
The Lakers relied on what Darvin Ham is always preaching defensive intensity and shut down Phoenix, allowing the Suns to score only 11 points in the fourth to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Now, while many will sing LeBron James’ praises for his back-to-back layups in the game's closing minutes, Wood deserves recognition for his fourth-quarter play, particularly on the defensive side of the ball against Kevin Durant.
“I thought he did about as good as anyone can do,” Ham said. “He made a commitment to me when we signed him that that was a part of his game that he wants to get better at. With his length, his agility, he’s able to contest at a high rate. Some of the guys that are physical defenders may be a little shorter so they’re really not causing any distraction of KD’s vision when he’s looking at the rim.”
“Just them trusting me, it was a big assignment… Making things tough for him was big for me.” Christian Wood speaks on guarding Kevin Durant at a pivotal moment in the game. pic.twitter.com/5UfOmkUjJj— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) October 27, 2023
Wood defended Drew Eubanks well during the non-Durant minutes at the start of the fourth and when Durant returned, he had three consecutive possessions where he prevented KD from scoring.
First, he forced KD to hit the side of the backboard on a tough baseline mid-range jumper, then picked him up at the top of the key, resulting in a short jumper from Durant. He capped it off by then working hard to prevent Durant from getting the ball in the corner as on-court mics picked up Darvin Ham yelling “Deny!” as the ball went out of bounds, forcing a Phoenix turnover.
“When you’ve got Christian guarding and Nurkic is coming to set a screen,” Ham said, “now AD is switching on him or Christian is pressing up on him, pushing him to AD. Along with Cam and Taurean, those guys did the best job they can, too, forcing him into some tough shots where he’s accustomed to making those shots, but we still try to make it as tough as possible.
“But with Christian in particular, his length and his ability to contest and his focus – he’s trying to be good on that end of the floor – you saw he was in a good rhythm, he was getting some defensive rebounds so I decided to go with him and throw him in the deep end of the pool.”
Defense wins games and tonight was a prime example of that. Durant was as dominant as one can be, scoring 39 points. But the Lakers took advantage when he was off the floor and in the fourth, Wood put him in tough situations and forced some key misses to help L.A. turn a 12-point deficit into a five-point win.
With the season in its infancy, games like tonight demonstrate why the Lakers signed Wood to this roster and if he continues to play a balanced game and stand out defensively, this season could be a career-redeeming one for him.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.