Friday meant the conclusion of the Los Angeles Lakers three-game homestand, with Luke Walton’s squad facing off against the Toronto Raptors. The Lakers are coming off an impressive comeback victory over the Washington Wizards, with this young team making a statement early on in the season. Impressive games from Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram led the way, as Los Angeles geared up for their fifth game of the season.
The Raptors went through an event-filled offseason, but emerged with their key pieces intact. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka re-signed with the team, with Toronto gearing up for a chance atop the Eastern Conference. The Lakers would need that same defensive presence in order to start off right, following their impressive defensive performance against the Wizards.
Walton elected to go with his typical starting lineup thus far, with Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., and Brook Lopez. On the other hand, Dwane Casey countered with Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan, Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam.
Just like the first game, Los Angeles was able to demonstrate the nice connection between point guard and power forward. The Lakers first bucket of the game came on a nice assist from Ball, feeding Nance Jr. for the driving dunk. Following that, Ball threw an alley-oop to Nance Jr., for two quick assists to start the game.
However, the Raptors were able to get going offensively, getting out to an early 9-4 lead. Ibaka attempted to use his size to score, getting three buckets a few minutes into the game. His fellow big man Siakam also threw down a nice dunk, establishing a series of points in the paint.
The Lakers responded with three straight buckets in the paint from Lopez, Ball, and Caldwell-Pope. After the tough start, the Lakers clamped down and ended the first quarter with a series of defensive stops. A Nance Jr. lay-up and Lopez scoop shot in the paint, giving the Lakers a 16-13 lead.
Walton seemed impressed with the defensive rotations of his young team, as the communication really set a standard to play by. This lead was a testament to their approach on both ends of the floor, as they ended the quarter on a 10-6 run.
After one quarter, the Lakers held a 26-19 lead. Lopez and Nance Jr. combined for 14 points early on, while three rebounds, three assists, and a steal in 10 minutes. The big men of the Raptors countered with 15 of their own, turning into a battle in the paint between both teams.
The Lakers opened up the second quarter with a 12-point lead, as the fans at Staples Center cheered loudly. This strong start was a major contract for the Lakers, as first quarter was the Achilles heel of the Dodgers last season.
Walton’s bench unit of Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle got things going in the second quarter, alongside Corey Brewer and Josh Hart. The rookie seems to have earned the backup guard spot next to Brewer and Clarkson, with Clarkson shifting over to the point guard position. He made his presence felt early, as he finished a slam dunk in transition and had a nice score on a spin move in the paint.
With a comfortable 10-point lead, the Lakers seemed to get a little too complacent, as has been typical with the second unit. Clarkson and Randle each made some questionable decisions, leading to a few turnovers and unfortunate shot selections. However, their continued effort on defense and poor shooting performance kept the lead going. The Raptors seemed rather sluggish early on, an unlikely scenario after a day off.
Ingram finished an impressive drive to the rim with a left-handed lay-up, while Randle bullied his way to the basket for his second field goal of the game. DeRozan and Powell helped their team climb back into the contest, as they scored six total points to bring the game into single digits.
A failed last-second shot for DeRozan did stop the bleeding, as the Lakers took a 51-45 lead into halftime. Ingram and Randle both climbed up to seven points apiece by halftime, while Kuzma got six points and eight rebounds with 12 points off the bench.
Although the Lakers got off to a strong start, they still had half a game to finish off their quality opponent. While Walton was surely pleased with the start to the game, he watched his team start off the second half sloppy with three turnovers.
During this time, the Raptors had their own resurgence and cut into the deficit. A pair of Lowry and DeRozan lay-ups brought the lead down to 2, while the Lakers only had a single bucket three minutes into the half. Ball and Lowry then both hit three-pointers to cancel each other out, putting some intensity into this back and forth contest.
The Lakers did hit a dry spell in the middle of the third, but were able to limit the damage by once again causing turnovers and playing in sync with their rotations. It was during this time that Tyler Ennis saw some action on the court, as Walton subbed out Clarkson following some questionable decisions.
A Kuzma swish on a three brought that drought to an end, as the Lakers were only able to secure free throws during that cold stretch. C.J. Miles and second-year players Jakob Poeltl were strong presences off the bench for the Raptors, providing some bench scoring to a team that primarily relies upon their starters.
The crowd did get antsy watching Los Angeles struggle for a bit, but rose to their feet when Randle finished off one of his patented two-handed slams on a nice dive to the basket. However, his team once again lost the battle in the quarter, outscored by seven points and now trailing 72-71.
The fourth quarter started out much different for the Lakers, as a breath of fresh air allowed them to refocus. A Kuzma floater got things going, while Randle received a nice assist and cashed in on a three-point play.
The game was all tied up 77-77 with just over nine minutes left in the contest. Another close contest was set up at Staples Center, as the fans remained on the edge of their seats. Randle was providing consistent defense for the Lakers, capped off by a nice shot block on a drive by Miles. He also fed Kuzma in transition following a rebound off a box out of Poeltl, as Kuzma used his floater to give the Lakers a 79-77 lead.
Hart, a rookie still adjusting to the NBA, also was able to get involved defensively during his time on the court. His lateral quickness and ability to get into the passing lanes earned him a steal and two blocks, making an impact the coaches will surely notice.
The Raptors did have their fair share of cold stretches, but were able to find one another when scoring. 24 of their 32 baskets came on assists, including 10 from Lowry himself. DeRozan started to get hot in the fourth, starting to show off his arsenal that Kobe Bryant helped him work on.
He his a killer fadeaway jump shot in the corner over Caldwell-Pope, giving the Raptors an 87-83 lead. Another floater gave him 22 on the night, as it also led to a 91-83 lead for Toronto. Walton’s squad was unable to get any consistent offense, as Walton decided to bench his starters for the final stretch of the game.
The deficit turned did go into double-digits, but a Kuzma floater brought it down to nine. An impressive Hart stop of DeRozan gave them another opportunity, also hitting a free throw to make it a 94-86 game. Randle then capitalized off the miss with a rebound and three-point play on a tip-in, down six with a minute and a half left.
Lowry was able to put a dagger in the heart of the Lakers on an isolation three-pointer, which finalized his triple-double (11 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) for the night. A Clarkson lay-up made it a 97-92 game, but it was too late. The Raptors escaped with a 101-92 win, able to come back from their early struggles.
The Lakers absolutely struggled from beyond the arc, finishing the game 3-for-22 from out there. They weren’t able to capitalize off of the Raptors, as they shot 7-for-29 from out three-point range. Kuzma finished the contest with a great game off the bench, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds (although he did have four turnovers). Randle also chimed in with 16 points, along with four rebounds.