While the Los Angeles Lakers put together a strong third quarter that saw them lead by as many as 15 points, the Atlanta Hawks steadily chipped away at their deficit and made a game of it in the fourth quarter.
Alex Len’s slam dunk put Atlanta ahead with 5:26 remaining and prompted Lakers head coach Luke Walton to call a timeout. Kyle Kuzma and Tyson Chandler were inserted back into the game at that point.
Trae Young’s 3-pointer put the Lakers in a four-point hole but they managed to tie the game on Kuzma’s basket. They took the lead immediately after as Kent Bazemore was called for a technical foul.
With Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James and Tyson Chandler all on the floor, it was Kuzma who took charge to knock down the go-ahead free throw. “We’re still figuring it out,” Walton answered when asked how the second-year forward wound up shooting the technical.
“Kuz walked to the line with confidence, so if you’re going to walk to the line with confidence, you better make it. And he made it. It’s part of having this new group, what we always talk about is figuring out our team. Things change as games go and whatnot. He walked up there with confidence so I wasn’t going to kick him off. He knocked it down.”
To Kuzma, the situation was simple. “I wanted to shoot it. I just told everybody I got it,” he said. “It felt good. I like shooting shots like that.”
Kuzma has regularly embraced the spotlight and pressure moments since his rookie season. Just last week he reiterated wanting the ball down the stretch of games and a confidence he performs better when “the bright lights are on.”
James later missed two free throws of his own but the Lakers came up with the offensive rebound and he delivered a put-back dunk on Kuzma’s floater that rolled off the rim, giving the Lakers a decided lead.
“I’m garbage. I suck from the free throw line right now,” said James, critiquing his recent struggles at the line. “I’ll get my rhythm back. I thank Kuz for giving us another opportunity. He gave me another shot, so I tried to get him another shot.”