The 22-55 Los Angeles Lakers had just five games remaining left in the NBA regular season entering Wednesday’s matchup against the 60-17 San Antonio Spurs. Both Luke Walton and Gregg Popovich went into the matchup at the AT&T Center with a shortened roster, dealing with respective injuries and restrictions.
Guard D’Angelo Russell was ruled out for the contest, while dealing with a knee injury. On the other end, Manu Ginobli, Danny Green and Dejounte Murray were all out with respective injuries.
With Russell out, Walton elected to start the game with Jordan Clarkson, Tyler Ennis, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. Popovich countered with Tony Parker, Jonathan Simmons, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dewayne Dedmon.
Both teams got up and down the floor early, trying to get some early offense going. The Lakers were trying to catch the Spurs off guard with some quick executions, attempting to capitalize with some early scoring.
Ingram, who was dealing with a minutes restriction, still started off the game aggressively. He was able to find Nance Jr. for two easy floaters at the rim, to get the scoring started. He then took the ball down the court, off of a made basket, and converted a three-point play with a lay-up at the rim.
The Lakers continued penetrating the basket, either to get Dedmon and Aldridge into foul trouble or to kick it out to their teammates. A hard drive to the rim by Randle resulted in a crash in the paint, to which he found Ennis open for a three-pointer. That shot gave the Lakers a 14-10 lead, as Popovich called a timeout.
Ingram, who also had a 22-point performance on Feb. 26 against the Spurs, seemed to have their number. Popovich made three substitutions out of the timeout, including putting in Kyle Anderson at the small forward position. Ingram sought to capitalize on the matchup, posting up Anderson and hitting a three-point play on the fadeaway.
The Lakers then stripped Pau Gasol at the rim, which led to a Clarkson uncontested lay-up at the rim. The early 19-12 lead was a surprise for the young Lakers, who typically have trouble scoring in the first and third quarters.
Walton then inserted David Nwaba and Tarik Back into the game, with Ingram, Randle and Clarkson getting a good chunk of action early in the game. Ingram was able to out-jump Anderson for a rebound, which led to a full-court pass to Clarkson for the lay-up and 27-14 lead.
Ingram was a big factor early on, with eight points, two rebounds, three assists and one block with 2:24 left in the first quarter. Clarkson was able to wind down the clock on the final play, with a strong drive to his left hand to give the Lakers a 31-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The key to the early success for the Lakers had to reside with their defensive performance, limiting the Spurs to 6-for-22 shooting (27.3 percent) and 0-for-7 from the three-point line. The Lakers also held a dominant 16-8 lead in the rebound department, while shooting 14-for-24 (58.3 percent) from the field.
The bench unit then made a spectacular start to the second quarter, increasing their unexpected lead against the Spurs. Their defensive led to many transition opportunities on Wednesday, which was surely a surprise to Walton.
Brewer started off the quarter with a 24-foot three pointer, which was followed by a Nwaba shot in the paint. Thomas Robinson then intercepted a Simmons pass, which led to a Nwaba alley-oop slam courtesy of a beautiful pass from Brewer.
The Lakers opened up a 38-14 lead over the Spurs, but understood that this game was far from over. The Spurs, run by the ever-lively Popovich, were bound to make their own run back into the game. The poor shooting performance started to turn in their favor, shifting the momentum and getting the home crowd back into it.
A Bryn Forbes three-pointer was their first of the contest, while a Parker lay-up on a fast break brought the lead to 40-21. The Spurs then turned it to a 9-0 run with a Leonard jumper, which was countered by an Ennis jump shot.
However, Ennis fell asleep on the defensive end against Parker, with the veteran using his body to create a three-point play (missed free throw). The Lakers were doing a phenomenal job early of getting to the paint, with a 28-20 lead over the Spurs near the rim.
Metta World Peace made a rare appearance halfway through the second quarter, with the veteran presumably playing in one of his final NBA games. Nance Jr. showed off some of his range with a three-pointer on the wing, but a Leonard three then countered it.
A Patty Mills three-pointer then cut the lead to 49-37, the least it had been since the first quarter. A pair of Aldridge jump shots at the end of the half cut the lead down to 53-41 going into halftime. Ennis’ 11 points led the way for the Lakers, while also tacking on four assists. Clarkson also posted 10 points and five rebounds, while Nance Jr. had nine points, eight rebounds and a block.
Ingram, who was under a precautionary minutes restriction, would not return in the second half of this contest. Walton stated that it was in his best interest, with Brewer placed into the lineup to start the second half. The Spurs also changed up their lineup the second half, with Popovich benching all his starters besides Parker.
Nance Jr., who started the scoring for the night, also got the Lakers going in the second half. His six-foot shot was the first Lakers’ bucket of the second half, while Ennis and his nice pass resulted in an easy dunk for Nance Jr.
Clarkson, who gave a sloppy behind the back pass for a turnover, was able to make it up on the defensive end. He stripped Parker on a drive to the rim, which resulted in a 2-on-1 fast break dunk for Brewer. That actually got the Spurs going, who then knocked down four consecutive shots to bring it to a 61-54 lead.
Parker’s mid-range shot got the run started, while another mid-range shot brought it down to 61-56. Popovich’s halftime adjustment was surely paying off for the Spurs, as their defensive and offensive intensity increased.
They quickly took a Clarkson miss at the rim down the court, which resulted in a Davis Bertans three-pointer and two-point lead. Walton called a timeout after the shot, as he saw the Lakers 12-point lead disappear in front of his eyes.
Randle, who had a nice block earlier on Anderson, fell victim to a few veteran moves from the Spurs. Gasol was able to get Randle to foul him, while converting the lay-up for the three-point play. The Spurs then dropped into the zone, which the Lakers realized.
They spaced the floor with their wings, with a cross court pass to Clarkson for another three-pointer. The Spurs responded quickly, with a Gasol three-pointer to match.
World Peace then knocked down his first bucket of the game, with a three-pointer on the wing to give the Laker a 76-67 lead. The Spurs, just as they always do, quickly responded with their own three from Simmons. Ennis missed the final shot of the quarter, as the Lakers took a 76-70 lead into the fourth quarter.
Simmons opened up the fourth with a second consecutive three-pointer, while World Peace was called on an offensive foul on a weak side push. Forbes then knocked down another three-pointer their following possession, which tied the game at 76.
Clarkson was also sent to the locker room, after suffering a left knee contusion on a drive to the rim. The Lakers already ruled him out for the remainder of the contest, meaning another play down for Walton’s squad.
The Lakers then opened up a five-point lead thanks to an Ennis three-pointer and Robinson bucket in the paint, while the second unit continued to fight hard on the offensive end. Forbes and World Peace then exchanged mid-range shots, with eight minutes left in the game.
Ennis then converted a difficult left-handed lay-up at the rim, giving the Lakers an 85-78 lead. That bucket also gave Ennis 16 points on the night, a new career high. The following few minutes would also favor the Lakers, as they outscored the Spurs 8-4. The Lakers continued to out-hustle the Spurs, while Popovich stuck with his bench unit.
Black then pushed it back to a 14-point lead when he converted a three-point play in the paint via another Ennis assist. The 96-82 lead with less than four minutes remaining in the game was a testament to the hard work all game, as Walton’s second unit clearly outplayed Popovich’s bench.
However, the Spurs wouldn’t give up on this game. They responded with a 13-2 run over a three-minute stretch, cutting the lead to just five points. Bertans did miss a tough three-pointer, with the rebound secured by Black. Robinson then stole the pass to Anderson and took it all the way down the court, but missed the lay-up. However, Nwaba was trailing the play and followed the miss with a two-handed slam, securing the victory.
The Lakers would go on to secure their second straight victory during their 102-95 victory over the Spurs. Ennis led the Lakers with a career high 19 points, along with six assists and two steals. Randle chipped in 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists, while Nance Jr. finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.