The Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the NBA In-Season Tournament semifinals with a hard-fought 106-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns. The contest very much resembled a playoff game and head coach Darvin Ham limited his rotation with only Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt playing more than 10 minutes off the bench.
In just his second game back from injury, Vanderbilt was thrown right into the fire having to guard Suns star Kevin Durant, but he took the challenge head on. It also shows the trust that Ham has in Vanderbilt to turn to him in this high stakes matchup which the Lakers forward admitted, felt like a playoff game.
“Man, the intensity was up. It felt like a playoff game,” Vanderbilt said after the Lakers win. “When you got something on the line like that, when you got two competitive teams going at it, as a competitor you live for these type of games and you get up for these type of games. The atmopshere was crazy.”
That home Lakers crowd was rocking and the team gave them reason to be loud early on as the Lakers led by double-digits at the half. But Durant and Devin Booker brought the Suns back in the third quarter which Vanderbilt and the Lakers expected but were ultimately able to overcome in the fourth.
“Yeah, we had a feeling they were gonna make a run,” Vanderbilt noted. “In this type of atmosphere, we were up 12 I think going into the third, so I knew they were gonna make their run. But our job was to sustain the run and just keep throwing punches back and I think we did. I think we held our own and fourth quarter we locked in and got some stops, made some big plays.”
The Lakers made some huge stops and defense and rebounding were the key to victory. The Lakers forced 20 Phoenix turnovers and grabbed 21 offensive rebounds on the night with Vanderbilt grabbing four of those himself.
The defensive forward made an impact despite not hitting a field goal, though he does still feel he isn’t back to fully being himself just yet. “They would say I looked better than I felt,” the Lakers forward added.
“I thought I moved pretty good to start but obviously don’t feel like I’m all the way where I could be… I haven’t played in two months and I haven’t played an NBA game in even longer than that, maybe six months, so just getting back up to speed and rhythm and getting in shape.”
Even though he isn’t quite back completely, the fact that Vanderbilt still has a positive impact on these games shows just how important he can be to this Lakers team.
While he only played 15 minutes against the Suns, that number will likely increase as he continues to get healthier.
Anthony Davis describes where Jarred Vanderbilt can help Lakers in his return
What Vanderbilt brought against the Suns is exactly what Anthony Davis thought of when asking how how the forward can help the Lakers now that he’s back on the court.
“A lot. His energy and activity, obviously what he’s able to do on the defensive end guarding multiple positions, steals, deflections, rebounding, getting size back out there for rebounding.”
Now Vanderbilt will continue to get himself back into full game shape and really unleash havoc for the Lakers.
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