Brook Lopez was coming off a night in which he made five 3-pointers, and Julius Randle was in the midst of a strong stretch of games, particularly as a starter. Yet neither were a factor for the Los Angeles Lakers in their impressive win against the San Antonio Spurs.
They both fell into early foul trouble, which cut into early playing time, and they ultimately saw limited minutes in the second half. The Lakers were able to withstand the lack of production thanks in large part to Larry Nance Jr.
He provided instant energy off the bench and recorded his fourth double-double of the season by finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Nance added two assists, one block, two steals, and a thunderous dunk off a lob pass from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“Larry might’ve been our most valuable player,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said following his team’s season-best third-consecutive win. “Brandon obviously was huge down the stretch, ‘Zo was great throughout, different guys at different times made really big plays for us.
“But I thought Larry’s play from the first time he checked in to leaving him in for the rest of the second half, he was putting out fires on defense, he was guarding bigger players, got us some extra shots. Overall, another great game for Larry. That’s his, in my opinion, third-straight great game with this win streak.”
Not necessarily seen in the stat sheet was the level of activity Nance had on the defensive end of the court, whether guarding Paul Gasol or LaMarcus Aldrige. Gasol scored just nine points, while Aldridge led the team with 20.
However, the Spurs’ latest iteration of the Twin Towers shot 10-for-29. “The first unit did a real good job of keeping [the Spurs] in check defensively, so that was really my focus,” Nance said.
“I knew the other four guys out there were going to do a great job of handling attacking and scoring, so I was just trying to handle our defense.”
Like Kyle Kuzma, Nance has embraced whichever role that’s been assigned to him. On Thursday, they proved to be a formidable duo off the bench. Kuzma had 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Nance had a team-best +29 in his 30 minutes of action, while Kuzma was second with +26, also playing 30 minutes. “I think it’s good,” he said of pairing with Nance.
“When I’m able to play defense like I have the past couple of games, he does that every single night, so we have that factor. We also have the factor of me spacing the floor and him under the rim. It’s a pretty good pairing if we’re dialed in.”
Nance also drew the praise of Lonzo Ball. “He’s a unique big, because he’s so athletic and he runs the floor every time. Plus he rebounds,” the rookie point guard said. “He rebounds and gets it out and is off on the break.
“You can throw him that lob and he’ll catch them, he can knock down the 15-footer, he does all the little things for us to win.”
While Nance electrified the crowd with his slam dunk in the fourth quarter, the errant pass from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tested every bit of his leaping ability. “I always tell these guys, ‘If you throw it, I’ll go get it,'” Nance said.
“So he trusted me on that one and kind of let it fly. I had to earn myself some credit back, so I kind of helped him out a little bit.”