After three straight losses and plenty of hand-wringing, the Los Angeles Lakers finally stopped the bleeding on Friday evening against the Phoenix Suns in the final game of a four-game road trip and their first in-season tournament contest.
Los Angeles got off to a solid start by taking an early 13-7 lead, but it soon found itself down by as many as 14 points and trailed 63-55 at halftime. Yet again, the Lakers were beaten badly on the boards, as they were outrebounded 38-21 and gave up 13 second-chance points in the first half.
They started to chip away at their deficit before going on a 19-4 run starting late in the third quarter to take a four-point lead. For a change, they started hitting from 3-point range, and they also started to get stops in bunches while cleaning up their defensive backboards a little.
Down the stretch, Phoenix kept threatening, but the Lakers were able to continue getting scores, and they came away with a hard-earned 122-119 victory to improve to 4-5 on the season. It was reminiscent of their 100-95 win over Phoenix on Oct. 26 when they overcame a 12-point deficit to start the final period.
Although the Purple and Gold still got outrebounded, they hit 44.4% from 3-point land and had an edge at the free-throw line while getting a decent 20 fast-break points. They now return home, where six of their next seven contests will take place.
Anthony Davis: C-plus
Davis returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s loss to the Houston Rockets with a tweaked hip. He likely wasn’t 100%, but as usual, he played through pain or discomfort for the good of his team.
He got off to a slow start offensively, as he went 2-of-9 in the first half. He finished just 5-of-14 from the field, but he scored 13 points in the second half, including two big free throws near the end to ice the victory.
Otherwise, Davis was his usual self with 11 rebounds, four assists and one blocked shot. Needless to say, Los Angeles badly missed him on Wednesday.
Prince shot 3-of-8 overall, but he missed all four of his 3-point attempts. Defensively, he was matched up against Kevin Durant, who torched him for 38 points on 13-of-27 shooting. Durant was simply too tall for him, and there wasn’t much Prince could do to slow down the future Hall of Famer, although he did manage to come up with two blocked shots.
D'Angelo Russell: A-minus
Russell was hitting early, and he helped prevent this game from getting completely away from the Lakers. He scored 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting, and he dished off nine assists while committing only one turnover.
The guard didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter, but it is indicative of the depth and the resulting options this Lakers team has.
Cam Reddish: A
Shortly before the tip, head coach Darvin Ham decided to move Austin Reaves out of the starting lineup in favor of Reddish. Reddish responded right away by getting possession of the opening tap from the Suns, then he had a steal that led to a fast-break layup by LeBron James. However, he picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter and his third foul early in the second quarter.
Yet once he returned, the wing got hot from downtown. He hit a 3-point heave to end the third quarter, and his 3-pointer with 1:10 left put L.A. ahead 118-113. He finished 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, giving him 17 points plus three steals and three rebounds.
Perhaps this game will serve as a model for Reddish to build upon moving forward.
LeBron James: A
Late in the fourth quarter, James appeared to sustain a left leg injury that forced him to come out of the game. He was in quite a bit of discomfort, but he returned for the second quarter, and he showed no ill effects the rest of the way.
The 38-year-old was very efficient, shooting 11-of-17 overall and 3-of-4 from downtown to score 32 points, and he also helped out with 11 rebounds, six assists, one steal and one blocked shot. Unlike the last couple of seasons, he seems to be attacking downhill more often, especially in L.A.’s set offense, and it is a big reason he came into this game shooting 55.9% from the field.
Austin Reaves: A
Off the bench, Reaves struggled early and wasn’t being assertive, but he picked things up later on, making all four of his second-half shot attempts, with three of them coming in the fourth quarter. In total, he had 15 points on 6-of-11 field-goal shooting and 2-of-4 from 3-point land and seven assists in 35 minutes.
His performance is evidence of his team-oriented mindset and how he didn’t pout about what some would perceive as a demotion.
Perhaps playing more minutes as the Lakers’ main ball-handling guard rather than sharing those duties often with Russell will help him return to form on a more consistent basis.
Christian Wood: C-plus
As was the case on Wednesday, Wood didn’t do much offensively, going 2-of-5, although he hit a big trey with 8:03 left in the fourth quarter to bolster his team’s rally. He did help out big time with nine rebounds in just 18 minutes, and that has been a big thing he has contributed to the Lakers so far this season.
Hachimura only scored seven points in 20 minutes, but he had active hands defensively that allowed him to come up with four steals to help fuel the Lakers’ late surge. He hit a big 3-pointer with 11:07 left in the fourth quarter to bring them to within four points, and with just over seven minutes remaining, he got a steal that he turned into a transition dunk to put Los Angeles up by seven points.
Jaxson Hayes: B-minus
Hayes, returning after missing two games with an ankle ailment, only had two points and one rebound in five minutes, but he showed good effort boxing out. The Lakers definitely missed his size and length, even if it was for just a few minutes a game.