The Los Angeles Lakers played one of their best games of the season Sunday night but couldn’t quite sustain the effort in the fourth quarter and lost 125-120 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Jordan Clarkson got the Lakers off to a good start by hitting two three-pointers to begin the game, and D’Angelo Russell took it from there finishing with a career high 40 points. In the end, Cleveland’s big three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, were just too much.
Irving, in particular, was virtually unstoppable no matter who was guarding him as he finished with 46 points of his own. Still, the Lakers played hard all game and competed to the very end, something fans have not seen consistently from the team this year.
The Lakers were ahead for much of the game before relinquishing the lead for good midway through the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, if there is such a thing it was a moral victory this was it, as the purple and gold gave the defending champs all they could handle.
Here are three takeaways from this exciting game.
1. The Lakers Continue to Struggle to Close Out Close Games
The Lakers played about as well as they are capable of, at least on offense. They were ahead half way through the fourth quarter, but Irving and James turned it on and the home team had no answers. The difference was the Lakers have no closers on their team, so when Cleveland picked up the intensity level, especially on defense, the Lakers had no one who could match it.
The Lakers had only two turnovers through the first three quarters, and were ahead by ten points on multiple occasions. When the fourth quarter started, and the score tightened, they started throwing the ball away, couldn’t get any stops, and they kept fouling giving the Cavaliers repeated three point plays.
Most important, however, no one on the Lakers could score with the game on the line deep in the fourth quarter, and that allowed Cleveland to pull it out.
2. D’Angelo Russell Was Outstanding
D’Angelo Russell, fresh off his ejection in the last game, returned to the starting line-up against the Cavaliers after coming off the bench in recent contests. Whether it was a coincidence or not, he responded with a career-high 40 points and was dominant on the offensive end.
It was this kind of aggressiveness that the Lakers want from him every game. Russell was 14-22 from the floor and 7-12 from three point range. He also had six assists, two steals, and only one turnover.
In the past, Russell would have a good quarter or a good half but disappear the rest of the game. In this contest, he remained aggressive and focused all night. It was a great showing from Russell, and the coaching staff can only hope he keeps it up the rest of the season.
3. Fans Finally Got The Starting Lineup They’ve Been Hoping For
For the first time all season, the Lakers started Clarkson and Russell at guard, Ingram and Randle at forward, and Ivica Zubac center. It was the starting five that Lakers fans have wanted to see all season, and it is unfortunate that it took the coaches all year to give it a shot. At least for one night, the results were favorable.
Led by Russell’s 40 points, all five starters finished in double-figures. Clarkson finished with 19 points and six assists. Ingram, after a slow start, continued his strong shooting as he finished with 18 points on 8-15 from the field and six rebounds.
Zubac played only 19 minutes but finished with ten points on 4-7 shooting to go along with six rebounds and two assists. It was disappointing that he did not play in the fourth quarter, but with Tristan Thompson leaving the game, Cleveland went small and it would’ve been tough to Zubac to match up with anyone defensively.
Even still, it was a good night overall for the young group and fans will have a lot to look forward to with this unit moving forward.