On the second night of a back-to-back and without Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, the Los Angeles Lakers weren’t expected to be able to compete with, much less beat, the San Antonio Spurs. But behind big nights from Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and others, Luke Walton was able to go with his gut on which lineup worked best and could lead L.A. to a shocking upset.
After the game, Walton said the way his mixed-and-matched unit that included Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Channing Frye, Ivica Zubac and Tyler Ennis was working allowed him to play that group the second-most minutes of any unit on the team (13.5).
That was despite though that specific five-man combination not previously playing together in any of the Lakers’ prior 77 games this season. “In the second half … It was easy. We’ve got [Thursday] off so we’re going to play guys who are playing well together, who are really giving it everything they have,” Walton explained.
“When that group was rolling in the second half, that was an easy decision. We were going to stick with them and let them finish that game out.”
That ragtag group was able to post a net rating of +17.4 in their time together and push the Lakers into an overtime period in which Kuzma would score the first five points, followed by a charge from Hart that started to strangle the Spurs.
“It’s just a bunch of hungry guys. Anytime you put a bench in, they’re always going to be hungry. Try to prove something, get in and try to affect the game,” Kuzma said of the lineup.
Hart agreed with that assessment, adding that the lineup “just wanted to seize our opportunity. I think that was the biggest thing. As professionals, you want to be ready whenever your name is called. We just want to go out there, play for each other and have fun.”
In addition to having fun, Walton lauded the group for expertly executing a complicated, communication-intensive scheme on defense despite never having played together to slow Spurs star LaMarcus Aldridge and allow the Lakers to snap their three-game losing streak.
“It’s a defensive coverage that requires all five guys being on the same page,” Walton said. “That group that was out there did an unbelievable job.”