Head coach Frank Vogel’s decision to include Markieff Morris in the Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup for Game 4 against the Houston Rockets did not come as a surprise. Vogel has repeatedly said his team has what it takes to match Houston’s small-ball lineup with success — and he moved forward with doing so in Thursday’s 110-100 victory.
But the surprising cameo of Lakers rookie Talen Horton-Tucker in the crucial moment of the Western Conference Semifinal series did raise a few eyebrows. Horton-Tucker checked in early in the second quarter and put in a brilliant shift in his NBA Playoffs debut, scoring five points and registering a couple of rebounds and steals in seven minutes.
L.A. outscored the Rockets by nine points during the 19-year-old wingman’s time on the floor even though LeBron James was given a breather for most of its duration. And while many went from bafflement to awe over Horton-Tucker’s appearance, Vogel did not fear sending the rookie out for his trial by fire at any point.
“He performed exceptionally well, and none of us were surprised,” he said. “[I] have confidence in JR, it was going to be Dion before he got hurt, but I just wanted to get Talen a chance. He continues to prove himself in practice and I like what he brings to the table.”
And James echoed Vogel’s words. The three-time NBA champion lauded his Lakers teammates — Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso and Horton-Tucker — who are experiencing the first postseason stint of their careers. But James was particularly impressed with the rookie.
“We got [Talen Horton-Tucker] in the game and he was huge in his first stint in the postseason,” James said. “And we want to continue to grow every single day. … I thought [Horton-Tucker] was really good. Coming in and giving us some huge minutes when Keef got in foul trouble.”
Vogel appreciates Lakers roster’s ‘Role Acceptance’
Vogel has made several rotation adjustments throughout the Rockets series to adapt to Houston’s unique playing style.
The changes resulted in Lakers centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard having their roles significantly reduced while Morris, Caruso and Rajon Rondo have been trusted with more minutes on the court.
And Vogel’s rearrangements paid off; L.A. have taken control of the series and are just a win away from securing a spot in the conference finals. But the Lakers head coach refused to take the credit and praised his players for their approach toward the rotation adjustments.
“Role acceptance is a huge part of any successful team,” Vogel said. “Our guys have really excelled at that throughout the year.”
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