Fifteen takeaways on the Los Angeles Lakers’ 143-142 overtime loss to the visiting San Antonio Spurs on Monday.
1. This was far and away the Lakers’ best game of the season and they still lost to a banged-up Spurs team at home. But give the Lakers credit. This had the makings of a basketball bloodbath early, with the Spurs sprinting to an 18-point lead and scoring 40 points in the first quarter.
2. The Lakers fought and fought and fought some more, battling back behind (you guessed it) Kyle Kuzma and, yes, LeBron James.
3. How did this game end up going to OT? The Lakers started playing smarter on offense and James started to create and score after a lousy first half. It was LeBron’s LONG pull-up 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left in regulation that tied the game at 128-all.
4. LeBron opened the game by missing two layups and six straight shots overall, scoring just four points in the first half. He ended it by missing two huge free throws with the Lakers clinging to a 142-141 lead and 12.8 seconds to go in OT. His last-gasp stepback at the buzzer clanged off the rim. “I got the shot that I wanted,” he told reporters in LA.
5. Still, if it weren’t for James and Kuzma, the Lakers never would’ve had a chance. Kuzma was outstanding on his way to 37 points — and James scored 32, to go with a remarkable 14 assists and eight rebounds. He finished 11-of-25 shooting.
6. Yes, the Lakers were missing Brandon Ingram, who was serving the first of a four-game suspension for his role in the fight with the Houston Rockets. But Kuzma more than made up for it.
7. Considerably worse for the Lakers was the absence of Rajon Rondo, also suspended. Most of the Lakers’ young players are terrible on defense, but none more than Lonzo Ball. And it was no less than Ball who filled in for Rondo … and got lost on D when Spurs guard Patty Mills hit a mid-range jumper for the game’s final points. It’s doubtful Rondo would’ve made the same mistake.
8. Another reason the Lakers were able to make a late charge? Undrafted forward Johnathan Williams, who was signed to a two-way contract over the weekend. The former Gonzaga big man scrapped his way to eight points, four rebounds and three blocked shots in 14 important minutes. His basket with 2:17 left in OT gave the Lakers what appeared to be an insurmountable 139-133 lead. But the defense let them down again.
9. By the way, this is just the second time LeBron has started 0-3. Last time was his second season in the league, with the Cleveland Cavaliers, in 2004-05. That Cavs team did not make the playoffs.
10. LeBron to reporters: “I know what I got myself into. It’s a process. I get it.”
11. Lakers center JaVale McGee also gave an underrated showing, finishing with 16 points and eight boards before fouling out less than a minute into overtime. McGee is starting to play well next to James.
12. But it was too much LaMarcus Aldridge (37 points, 10 rebounds) and DeMar DeRozan (32 points, 14 assists) for the Spurs. Bryn Forbes and Rudy Gay each added 16 points.
13. After watching this game, it’s become quite clear the league does not want its players to defend. There are way too many ticky-tack fouls called. It’s as if you have to play five feet off your man — otherwise, the whistle is going to blow. Afterward, even LeBron talked about how the rule changes are all geared toward assisting the offense.
14. By the way, why is LaVar Ball suddenly quiet? Could LeBron’s camp or the Lakers be paying him hush money? I doubt it. Still, I can’t help but wonder why no one from the dazzling LA media has uncovered this story. And LaVar being quiet is indeed a story.
15. Finally, LeBron’s teams tend to start slow and finish strong. That’s good news for the Lakers. But I still think, eventually, James is going to want another veteran All-Star on this roster. That is something else that has historically been true of LeBron as well.