Looking to snap a two-game losing streak as they began a homestand, the Los Angeles Lakers were dominant from the jump against the Indiana Pacers.
The 38 points the Lakers scored were a season-high for a first quarter this season, and the 15 points allowed in the first 12 minutes was another season-best mark. As the Lakers opened the game on a 13-0 run, they blocked seven shots in less than seven minutes and forced the Pacers into 11 consecutive misses.
“It was as good as we could play defensively, really,” Walton said of the first quarter. “We were active, we were all over the glass, contesting everything. JaVale’s first contest of the game was incredible and it kind of set the tone. Earlier in the season we’ve had games where [the opponent] comes out and move the ball freely and we don’t get a contest. We did a lot of really good things defensively in that first quarter.”
Despite building up a lead that grew to as many as 24 points, the Lakers found themselves in a tight battle after the first quarter. Indiana steadily chipped away at their deficit before taking a lead midway through the third.
Though he’s attempted to distribute some of the duty, LeBron James bailed the Lakers out to the tune of 38 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in 38 minutes of action.
“I thought we did some really nice things tonight. I thought we played three quarters of really good basketball and one quarter of awful basketball, but that’s progress,” Walton said.
“We talked about the opportunity before the game for JaVale to guard another big man that could pop and shoot. I thought JaVale was up for the challenge and did a great job as far as contesting those jump shots. I thought Josh Hart was an incredible spark off the bench and LeBron was spectacular. We got a lot of really good efforts from different people. That’s what it takes to win in this league.
“That’s when basketball becomes fun, is when everyone is doing something, helping out and playing selfless. For most of the game tonight we were playing that way.”
When the Lakers saw their lead cut to a single point in the fourth quarter, the defense responded by locking back in, which helped pave the way for James to assert his dominance on the opposite end of the court.
“I liked their defensive intensity,” Walton said of his closing unit that consisted of James, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee. “In the huddles, they were talking about it themselves.
“They were saying, ‘Come on. Let’s win this with the defense. Let’s get our stops.’ Tyson Chandler was getting the crowd involved, Josh was flying over screens, ‘Zo was switching onto bigs and getting rebounds. If we have the lead, I’m trying to play the group that I feel is competing the hardest on defense. I felt like that group was really, really competing.”
The Lakers have become prone to squandering leads, and doing so Thursday night earned them boos from the home crowd for a second time this season. Walton attributed their collapse to the offense regressing and impacting defense.
“For us, and this is any new team, a lot of teams deal with this, you get a lead and then guys start to think, ‘OK, we’re going to win. Let me score the ball.’ We stop playing the way that we get our lead,” he explained.
“We have to continue to play that way. We’re moving, making the extra pass and at the end of the day when you play like that everyone gets their points anyways. It’s something we’ll continue to show clips on as far as where extra open passes were available.
“I think they always kind of go hand-in-hand. When the ball gets stagnant on offense and people start making individual plays instead of the team play, then the energy drops on defense. You don’t rotate for the guy that didn’t pass you the ball.
“It’s human nature, whether you mean to or not. The offense always affects the defense. When you’re playing great defense and flying around, normally that affects the offense. That’s when you knock down big shots.”