Many people believed the Los Angeles Lakers would walk through the Golden State Warriors in the NBA’s Play-In Tournament, but it was anything but easy. Frank Vogel’s team played abysmally in the first half but were able to push back into the game in the second with LeBron James’ clutch 3-pointer lifting them to a 103-100 victory.
The season as a whole has been a difficult one for the Lakers with injuries preventing the team from developing the necessary chemistry on the court, and that showed in the first half. The Warriors and Stephen Curry ran through the Lakers, capped off by Curry’s three to beat the first-half buzzer for a 13-point lead.
In the locker room, the message was clear. “The message at halftime was we have to play more physical,” Vogel said. “The simple way to put it. The public way to put it (laughs).
“They played more physical than us in the first half. We didn’t play tough enough. They were stripping the ball from us, and when I say not tough enough, not tough enough offensively. Had to be better there and I think we came out in the second half and responded to that.”
James credited veterans Jared Dudley and Markieff Morris for stepping up and giving speeches in the locker room during halftime. Though neither would see the floor in the game, they were engaged all night and pushing the Lakers to get it together.
Thankfully the team was able to do just that and now have a first-round playoff matchup set with the Phoenix Suns. But Vogel believes the Lakers will be better because of the adversity faced in that Play-In Game.
“In every way. Being tested like that strengthens you,” Vogel added after the win. “Our group have a lot of new pieces and to see our guys be in that environment together just helps us going forward.
“Obviously, we still wish we had more time to build cohesiveness and to get guys’ legs and lungs where they need to be. Dennis Schroder and Bron, those guys competed and a game like this, a close affair where it comes down to the wire strengthens your group.”
It helps that the Lakers have playoff-tested guys who have been through the fire. The likes of Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Wesley Matthews were crucial in the victory and showed they can be relied upon in the biggest moments.
Caruso believes Play-In Tournament may be a ‘blessing in disguise’
One player who is right in line with Vogel’s thinking is reserve guard Alex Caruso who had an excellent game with 14 points and a number of huge defensive plays. Like Vogel, Caruso believes the Play-In Game could benefit the Lakers greatly moving forward.
“Honestly, having a Play-In Game might be a blessing in disguise for us just because it’s an opportunity for us,” Caruso said after the game. Just being able to go through this experience where it’s basically a do-or-die game and having the new guys feel that mentality. Playing every possession like it’s your last. Being locked in of the ups and downs of the game. Answering back to other team’s runs.
“Stuff that takes championship DNA and championship mindsets to win. It’s good for them to get their toes wet in that and kind of experience that with us as a team. I think it’s going to be good for us going forward.”
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