It was a rocky start for Los Angeles, but once they settled down, the Lakers outclassed the Toronto Raptors on Friday, defeating them 122-112 to win their third game in a row and improve to 33-34 overall on the season, retaining sole possession of ninth place in the Western Conference.
D’Angelo Russell was sensational in the fourth quarter in his return to the lineup. Whenever the Lakers needed a boost, D-Lo was present to make a basket. He didn’t seem completely comfortable — which is expected with how little he’s played with the Lakers and his six-game absence — but this is a great start. He ended the night with 28 points and 9 assists, with multiple clutch threes to close the game out.
Anthony Davis was doubled at every opportunity and his numbers reflected that. He only had 8 points and 9 rebounds, but the Lakers' role players made Toronto pay for paying so much attention to their star. L.A. had three players off the bench in double digits, and every single reserve had a double-digit positive plus-minus.
Prior to the game, Darvin Ham mentioned that Russell would be starting and Dennis Schröder would be on the bench. He also emphasized that Dennis would still have a role.
He kept his word tonight.
Dennis played 33 minutes and rewarded Ham’s trust by playing well; he had 23 points on 8-17 shooting and a plus-minus of +32.
With Austin Reaves’ minutes paired with Dennis’, he saw less time on the ball but still impacted the game. He was crucial to the fourth-quarter comeback, hitting mid-range jumpers, finishing timely cuts and making free throws to bring the energy needed to pull off the win.
With D-Lo’s return, there was one player who was the odd man out, Lonnie Walker IV. He went from playing 15-plus minutes a night to being a DNP coach’s decision tonight.
To start, though, the Lakers put their worst foot forward. They struggled to get the ball to AD as the Raptors were focused on forcing anyone else to beat them. The result was a 15-point deficit for the purple and gold in the first.
Then the Lakers settled down. Jarred Vanderbilt scored 14 in the first half, his most points ever as a Laker; Russell caught fire in the second quarter, and L.A. went on a 13-4 run to end the first half and held an eight-point lead at the break.
+12 in the second @JVando: 14 pts (5/5 FG)@DS17_FG: 13 pts@Dloading: 12 pts, 7 ast@rui_8mura: 12 pts pic.twitter.com/3INYGFSuSd— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 11, 2023
The second half couldn’t have started worse for the Lakeshow. Toronto went on a 9-0 run and O.G. Anunoby, who was already shooting perfectly from the field, continued to do so, finishing with 31 points on nearly flawless 12-14 shooting on the night.
So while L.A. kept themselves in the game, Toronto still had control up by five entering the fourth. But one of my basketball philosophies is “to make a fourth-quarter comeback you have to be within ten or fewer points to start the quarter.” The Lakers adhered to that rule tonight and after some big rebounds, a Reaves pull-up and a three from Dennis, the Lakers regained the lead.
Then the floodgates opened.
D-Lo was hitting deep threes, Dennis kept scoring and Reaves had a slam dunk that brought down the house. The Laker lead ballooned to nine, all while AD was on the bench. When Davis returned, the energy stayed up, and with under two minutes left Dennis and AD hit back-to-back jumpers to ice the game.
If the Lakers win on Sunday against the Knicks, it’ll be the first time they are at or above .500 since last season, when they were 24-24. So while some might consider that record to be games half lost, I consider it games half won.
The Lakers won a tough game tonight, making a fourth-quarter comeback, got their starting point guard back and are only one game back from the sixth seed. With the No. 1 defensive rating in the NBA since the trade deadline, this team is playing with an intensity and execution their opponents can’t match. You can hear the energy permeate from Crypto through your screen. This team is on to something special.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.