The Los Angeles Lakers overcame yet another rough shooting night at the free throw line to defeat the Boston Celtics, running their home winning streak to six games and overall streak to three.
Los Angeles was spearheaded by Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle, with Kuzma’s 28 points leading the team. The rookie forward caught fire in the fourth quarter, when he scored 17 of his points to help the Lakers stave off the Celtics.
Kuzma’s 17 points in the final 12 minutes marked a single-quarter high for any Lakers player this season. Moreover, he now has 15 games with at least 20 points, which are the most by a Lakers rookie since Eddie Jones had that many in 1994-95.
The 22-year-old continues to lead the Lakers in scoring, now at 16.7 points per game. “His teammates were looking for him, we obviously drew up a couple plays for him,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said of Kuzma’s night.
“When he got going, we also tried to use him as a single-side tag to get Larry or Julius rolling to the rim, and make Kuzma’s man make a decision if he wants to come in and tag that roller or stay home. So we used him in that a few times. But yeah, Kuzma, his fourth quarter was incredible tonight.”
There was a stretch of three consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter where the Lakers ran their offense through Kuzma. He made back-to-back 3-pointers, then spun and drove on Marcus Smart before throwing a behind-the-back pass to Larry Nance Jr. for a slam dunk.
Like in other instances this season when he’s settled into a groove, the 3-pointers Kuzma made came with no hesitation. “It’s a fine line with Kuz. We need his scoring and we need his gunslinger mentality. But with that comes some bad shots,” Walton said.
“So we show him all of his shots, and we talk about good ones versus bad ones. What I thought he did a really nice job of tonight was being a playmaker when he gets going. And that really demoralizes a defense. When he drives and they come to double him and he throws a pass to Larry for a dunk, that’s really winning basketball right there.
“It’s going to be a constant learning curve. There’s not a definite answer when you’re dealing with some that plays like Kuz plays, because that’s part of what makes him so good. It’s the freedom we let him play with. But there’s responsibility that comes with that, and we’re on him about his shot selection a lot.”
Kuzma explained postgame he sensed a potential prolific scoring night based on his success in the first half. “I just felt like every time I touched it, I was just trying to score it,” Kuzma said of his fourth-quarter exploits. “I thought I was in a good rhythm.”
For as natural as scoring comes to Kuzma, setting others up is not off his mind. “I think the past 10-12 games, I’ve done a pretty good job of really facilitating and getting teammates into makes,” Kuzma said.
“Not really having nights where I have 20 points and zero assists. Just trying to find guys. It’s been helping.”
He had three assists against the Celtics, good for second-most on the team. But it was Kuzma’s scoring that teammates raved about. “Big plays, big shots. It’s good to see that out of him,” Jordan Clarkson said.
Said Julius Randle: “He was great. He was out there not thinking about anything, just playing hard, playing without a conscience. He was big time for us.”
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