The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers turned in a whale of a nightcap to Wednesday’s 10-game NBA slate. They traded 30-point quarters, whip-smart passes and active rotations that turned defense and into offense, with the surprisingly-not-so-lowly young Lakers giving the sort-of sleepwalking defending NBA champions everything they could handle for 48 minutes and then some, only bowing out in overtime after Stephen Curry shook off a brutal first four quarters to ignite for 13 points in overtime to push the Dubs over the finish line.
(Also, because dirty work should get the same praise as 3-pointers: Draymond Green basically sealed the win by working Brandon Ingram all the way under the basket on a free throw that Curry missed with 10 seconds left in OT, putting himself in position to get an offensive rebound that stifled the Lakers’ last chance at getting one more shot to tie or win.)
The Lakers did, however, have a chance to finish the job before the extra session, with less than 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 109. They didn’t, and that they didn’t stuck out as the “crucial point” in the game to one familiar, and familial, Lakers observer:
“I’ll tell you the crucial point,” LaVar Ball, father of Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball, told ESPN’s Chris Haynes after the game. “When [Lakers forward] Julius [Randle] got that ball at the end, he should’ve threw it forward. Lonzo had a wide-open layup! Or a 3-pointer! That’s game! You wouldn’t have went to overtime. That was game.”
Let’s refresh our memories, friends, and cast our minds all the way back to that fateful fourth-quarter play:
Here's the play LaVar Ball highlighted as the "crucial point" in the Lakers missing an opportunity to knock off the Warriors: not kicking the ball ahead off KD's late miss + calling timeout. pic.twitter.com/7zBiKoZ3DT
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) November 30, 2017
Kevin Durant settles for an isolation pull-up jumper over a good contest from Randle. The shot misses off the back of the rim, bouncing up for a rebound that the Lakers control, thanks to a tap-out from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Randle grabs the loose ball with 5.9 seconds left on the clock.
Lonzo Ball reaches out for a handoff, sees that Randle is about to start taking it himself and takes off, streaking down the right sideline. As Randle begins to dribble into traffic, you can hear the whistles blowing — Lakers head coach Luke Walton has called timeout, blowing the play dead and scuttling any chance of getting a fast-break opportunity against a defense still tracking back in transition. Lonzo immediately reacts with frustration at the bottom of the screen. Based on the post-game reaction of his pops, we can safely assume that he wasn’t the only one.
The timeout gave Walton a chance to draw up a play to go for the win. It also gave the Warriors a chance to set up their defense. Walton got second-year forward Brandon Ingram — who had turned in a star-making performance against Durant and company to that point — driving downhill against the smaller Klay Thompson for a look at the rim …
Brandon Ingram misses the game-winner, headed to OT pic.twitter.com/1O9YmDqqVZ
— NBAFL⚡️SH (@TheNBAFlash) November 30, 2017
… that didn’t go down, thanks to great help from the weak side by Green, sending the game to overtime.
“Julius tried to take too many dribbles, and then they fouled him, or they called timeout,” LaVar Ball told Haynes. “But if he would’ve threw the ball ahead? The coach wouldn’t have called timeout. Even if he did, he can’t call it, because the ball’s in the air. Lonzo was running the lane. Game over. That’s the best time to score, when it’s nine seconds left and your coach don’t call timeout!”
There’s been plenty of discussion on this point over the years, and the data has backed up Ball’s assertion — attacking a defense that’s not locked in and prepared to slow you down tends to produce better outcomes than drawing up a play, even if it’s a better X’s-and-O’s look, when you allow the opponent to sub in superior defenders and lock in on whatever action you’re going to run. (Especially a flat isolation look like the one Walton dialed up for Ingram.)
Walton addressed the “call timeout or let them run” question during his postgame press conference.
“I was debating that,” he said. “Once the ball kind of was loose and I looked, and it was four-point, maybe five seconds left, I just wanted to make sure that we got a good shot up. I liked — Brandon was hot, he got to his right hand, he got a good look. I think it was Draymond, or maybe it was Jordan Bell, who came over and contested it late.”
(If you’re looking for supporting evidence for the “it’s better not to give the defense a chance to get set up” point, here’s Draymond’s post-game assessment of how he knew where to be on the help assignment on Ingram’s quarter-closing shot, courtesy of Anthony Slater of The Athletic: “Ingram go right every play,” Green said. “You know he going right to the cup. Just try to be there to help. You know he going right.”)
“But it’s a feel thing,” Walton continued. “Normally, I would like to let that play go and let the players kind of use the momentum to try to get something. But it just looked a little too chaotic as we were grabbing the rebound and Julius had it. I just wanted to make sure we got a good look up.”
On top of the “chaotic” nature of the setup, the Warriors also weren’t totally unprepared in transition — they already had three guys behind the ball.
Here is the exact moment the ref give the timeout and blew the whistle. Two Warriors ahead of the play and only slowed because they heard the whistle. pic.twitter.com/Q2Bl1iBcXj
— matthewthomasdailey (@mtdly_) November 30, 2017
Actually three…KD is deep in the front court.
— matthewthomasdailey (@mtdly_) November 30, 2017
And yet, you will be surprised to learn that what Walton feels and what LaVar Ball feels differ!
“Do the Big Baller move!” Ball told Haynes. “Don’t call timeout!”
There are two different things at work here. In the micro sense, LaVar’s got a point — even with the play having sort of a disjointed beginning with Randle grabbing it and going, and even with several Warriors back on the play, it’s entirely possible that the Lakers could’ve gotten a better class of look by playing with flow than by drawing up Ingram trying to loft the ball over two defenders who knew exactly where he was going out of a timeout. That’s a perfectly reasonable point.
In the macro view, though … this is kind of what everyone was worried about, right?
This is the third time in about three weeks that LaVar Ball has publicly criticized Walton’s decision-making as it relates to putting his son in position to succeed. First, it was about why it would be better for Lonzo to play full fourth quarters than to sit them out. Then, it was the suggestion that Walton and his staff are “babying” Lonzo, and don’t know how to coach his oldest son. Now, LaVar’s not only got notes on Luke’s tactics, but on what Lonzo’s teammates should and shouldn’t do when he’s got the chance to win the game.
Before Lonzo became a Laker, UCLA’s Steve Alford told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times that LaVar had never meddled in his coaching during Lonzo’s time in Westwood. LaVar told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne this summer that, before the draft, he told Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, “‘As far as training my boy, this is as far as I can take him. I’ll leave it up to you to take him further. You can get him better with the film time and the coaching. You can take him to another level.'” Johnson recalled LaVar saying, “Earvin, look, I’m not following my son. I’m not going to be hanging out in L.A. I’m going to be training these young kids [his other sons].”
And yet: here we are. And this is with Walton’s Lakers largely outperforming preseason projections and with Lonzo continuing to find ways to contribute on the court while working his way through historic shooting struggles. What happens when things really go south? How will Walton, Johnson and the rest of the Lakers’ front office respond if LaVar’s critiques crank up from a low simmer to a rolling boil?
Nobody in professional sports likes to tout moral victories, but the Lakers should have come out of Wednesday’s game feeling really good about going 12 rounds with the champs, about Ingram looking like a star in the making, and about Lonzo (15 points on 5-for-12 shooting, 3-for-7 from 3-point land, 10 assists against two turnovers in 43 minutes) having a strong overall game. Now, though, we’re left to wonder if there might be more cause for concern on the horizon.
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