Despite trailing for much of the night, the Lakers earned their second win of the season — and first In-Season Tournament victory — against the Suns with a spirited fourth-quarter comeback on Friday, 122-119.
For much of the contest, it looked like a familiar script for the Lakers. Plagued by allowing offensive rebounds, poor shooting and a lack of defensive stops, it was a game the purple and gold spent playing from behind for most of the contest.
But as was the case in the previous meeting this year, the Lakers clamped down in the fourth quarter despite an otherworldly Kevin Durant performance to pick up the win.
LeBron James poured in 32 points with 11 rebounds and six assists while D’Angelo Russell had 19 points and nine rebounds. Cam Reddish had 17 points and went 5-8 from the 3-point line with three steals in the win. Anthony Davis struggled in his return, scoring 18 points with 11 rebounds but shot just 5-14.
The surprise of the night came with moving Reddish to the starting lineup in favor of Austin Reaves. Reddish started off fast, recording a pair of steals and knocking down a 3-pointer in the opening minutes.
And while the Lakers started relatively fast offensively, Bradley Beal went toe-to-toe with them, scoring nine of the Suns first 16 points. D’Angelo Russell, the catalyst of the Lakers strong start, scored 10 of the purple and gold’s first 17 points.
But it was the hosts who never slowed down as the points kept pouring in points. And for the seventh time in the opening nine games, the Lakers faced a double-digit deficit in the first quarter.
Making matters worse was LeBron James banging knees with Kevin Durant, leading to him limping off the court but remaining on the bench while being worked on. What he saw was the Lakers continue to struggle to get stops as Phoenix finished the opening frame with 34 points and a nine-point lead.
LeBron returned to open the second quarter but the Lakers did nothing to cut into the gap with a string of missed open looks, turnovers and empty possessions seeing the lead move to double digits once more. LeBron finally showed some spring in his step to put away any doubts that he wasn’t healthy, drawing an and-one on a reverse layup.
LeBron goes reverse, gets the bucket and the foul!— NBA (@NBA) November 11, 2023
NBA In-Season Tournament
West Group A action on ESPN pic.twitter.com/wMbe2wMQ3W
That was only a brief reprieve, though, as Phoenix gained its largest lead at 48-34 after a Jordan Goodwin 3-pointer. Davis returned to the floor out of the timeout and the Lakers went on a small run, but a lack of stops again meant there wasn’t much damage done to the deficit.
Eventually, though also inexplicably, the Lakers slowly found their way back into the game. Despite again giving up a host of offensive rebounds, struggling to shoot the ball and not getting stops defensively, the Lakers went into the half down 63-55 after a late-quarter surge.
Coming out of the gate to start the second half, the Lakers cut the lead down to four but, again, the Suns responded with seven unanswered points and the lead hit double digits once more. LeBron then took over, knocking down his second 3-pointer of the opening half of the quarter.
A Reddish steal leading to a pair of free throws had the lead down to three points, but back-to-back 3-pointers — one of them coming off an offensive rebound — from the Suns pushed it back to nine points.
It was a continued give and take, the Lakers making a run and the Suns responding to get it back to double digits. Durant caught fire in the latter stages of the third, scoring nine straight points to score 15 in the period. Only a wild Reddish 3-pointer ahead of the buzzer kept them within seven.
Reddish leaner at the buzzer!— NBA (@NBA) November 11, 2023
We're heading into the 4Q
NBA In-Season Tournament
West Group A action on ESPN pic.twitter.com/SFJMLTEetb
And yet, 3-pointers from Rui Hachimura and Cam Reddish to open the fourth quarter preceded a Reaves layup and, at last, the Lakers led again.
Out of nowhere, threes started falling at a rapid rate. Reddish hit. Wood hit. The Lakers began putting distance between them and the Suns. Hachimura turned a steal into a huge dunk and a 105-98 lead.
The haymakers continued with LeBron and Reaves swinging back and forth against Durant and Beal. The latter two got the better of it, pulling Phoenix within a possession. But it was the Lakers who, on the biggest possession of the night, grabbed a succession of offensive rebounds before Reddish knocked down a corner 3-pointer to push it to a five-point lead with just over a minute remaining.
While the ending was briefly hairy, the Lakers did enough to close out the win, earning their first road victory of the season.
To the surprise of everyone, at least for one night, head coach Darvin Ham pushed the right buttons by moving Reddish to the starting lineup. While it didn’t necessarily pay off right away, he was huge in the fourth quarter.
It was that fourth quarter, though, that should serve as notice for the Lakers. For seemingly the first time this season, the Lakers finally got tired of giving up offensive rebounds and started playing harder.
The result was a quarter in which they outscored the Suns 33-23 — though three of those came on an Eric Gordon 3-pointer as time expired — and turned defensive stops into transition baskets.
Maybe, hopefully, this could be a turning point. The Lakers are healthy, they finally looked like they gave a damn and they have their first road win of the year.
The better news? The team that awaits them on Sunday is the Blazers with tip-off set for 7 p.m. PT.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.