The Los Angeles Lakers came out with a renewed focus on Thursday after previously suffering an embarrassing loss to the Denver Nuggets. The team came out of the gate running, dominating the Indiana Pacers in a first quarter that was likely the best extended stretch of basketball played by the team all season.
The Lakers’ 38-15 lead after one eventually evaporated and the team had to fight back to pull out the 104-96 victory but the first 12 minutes of the game gave a blueprint as to how good they can be when everything is clicking.
The Lakers success in the first quarter came through a variety of factors, namely their stout defense. The Pacers did not score until the 7:26 mark of the quarter, finishing the first 4:34 of the game going 0-11 from the field with one turnover. In fact, the Lakers’ starting lineup, in their five first-quarter minutes, held a comically low defensive rating of 16.7.
It was the most consistent effort the Lakers have shown all season, amassing seven blocks within the game’s first seven minutes.
JaVale McGee fixed mistakes by forcing a pass on one Pacers’ fast-breaker and recovering in time to block another. Brandon Ingram made sure to repay him by swatting Myles Turner from behind.
Lonzo Ball and Ingram did not give up on plays, racing back after a LeBron James turnover to erase two shot attempts at the rim.
Here’s a look at where Ingram is when Darren Collison first crosses half-court:
The effort was contagious, leading to six turnovers from the Pacers in the first quarter, including three forced by Josh Hart who had his best game since suffering an ankle injury a few games ago. One of those turnovers was caused as the stout post-defender guarded Turner in the lane.
Offensively, the Lakers were nearly as dominant with a sizzling 135.7 offensive rating as a team in the first quarter. Much of that was created by their pace of play, not only on fast-breaks after Pacers’ turnovers and missed shots but also in the half-court.
On average, the Lakers allowed approximately 10 seconds to run off the clock before attempting a shot (or being fouled on a shot) in the first quarter, not including their final possession when the shot clock was turned off. They did not allow the shot clock to dip below 10 seconds until 3:58 remaining in the first quarter.
The decisiveness from the entire roster led to about as good shot selection as the Lakes could have, getting to the rim at will and launching five triples (including three from the corners):
The corner three was an emphasis for the Lakers as they routinely gave their shooters looks from the most efficient spot on the court. Even Josh Hart, known for barreling to the rim with no regard for passing the ball, was making that read (after attacking a closeout on what would have been another corner three):
The Lakers also utilized James in more ways than one. While LeBron has reverted back to his comfortable “point forward” role in recent weeks, especially since the injury to Rajon Rondo, the Lakers have gotten him involved in other ways as well. Over the course of the first quarter, they gave James the ball in triple-threat position to isolate and used him as a screener on multiple occasions:
As has been the case for some time, the Lonzo Ball-LeBron James combination continued to thrive in both configurations for the Lakers as Ball had a prototypical Lonzo game, impacting the game with his passing, rebounding and quick hands defensively despite having a poor shooting night.
The Lakers still have plenty of mistakes to clear up. Their 18 turnovers and 10 missed free throws nearly gave the game away. But when they play with a concerted effort, they are a good enough team to get past their own mistakes. The Lakers outhustled the Pacers in screen assists, loose ball recoveries, charges drawn, shot contests and box outs on Thursday night.
The Lakers’ second quarter was abysmal but they played three phenomenal quarters en route to their victory over the Pacers. Even with the competition being at low strength with Victor Oladipo out due to injury, their first quarter effort was something to hang their hats on.
Will that sort of effort be present in every game? Absolutely not. An 82-game season practically makes that impossible.
But if the Lakers can find that level of focus and determination to not only work hard but to also work smart on both ends of the court, they will have a chance to beat anyone in the NBA on a given night.