On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Lakers had an impressive second-half surge to beat the Houston Rockets, 124-115. The Lakers went into halftime only being down by six points, although it felt like the team should have been down by far more after a less-than-desired half of basketball against the Rockets. The Rockets’ duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook were scoring efficiently, and at will, as the two had 17 and 22 points, respectively, at halftime. The Lakers needed to make adjustments to try and secure a win without Anthony Davis in the lineup. The decision was to try and put Kyle Kuzma on Westbrook in the second half, putting a bigger body on him to prevent him from getting into the paint whenever he wanted. However, the decision wasn’t made initially by Frank Vogel and the Lakers’ coaching staff. It seems as though it was brought on by another “assistant coach”, if you will, the injured Rajon Rondo.
As Dave McMenamin of ESPN reports, Rajon Rondo stated, “Hey, I had to contribute somehow”. Kuzma explains the rest of the situation below, including what the actual gameplan was to have him on Westbrook.
“Rondo kind of pulled me to the side at halftime in the locker room and just asked me if I could guard him, and I said, ‘Of course,'” Kuzma said. “Westbrook was really hurting us in the first half, posting up our guards, and he’s just tough, he’s a tough load. He’s a big, strong, physical guard. In the second half, that kind of got eliminated, putting a bigger body on him.”
Kuzma was asked to detail his defensive game plan against the former MVP.
“Just keep him in front,” he said. “I’m confident in myself defensively. Just try to keep him in front, take tough shots and just not foul. These guys, they look for fouls. And if you keep them off the line, it bodes pretty well for you.”
Kyle Kuzma has always been known as a below-average defender, but, he definitely does do better against guards on the perimeter than he does against opposing fours that may be way bigger than him. According to Dave McMenamin’s article for ESPN as well as Second Spectrum data, Kuzma guarded Westbrook for 25 possessions in the second half. While Kuzma was on Westbrook, the Rockets averaged 92.3 points per 100 possessions while averaging 101.9 points per 100 possessions when anyone else was guarding Westbrook.
The adjustment, as well as an overall improvement across the team, resulted in a beat-down of a third quarter, with the Lakers outscoring the Rockets 32-17. The Rockets scored at least 30 points in all the other three quarters.
Kyle Kuzma also had a great second half on the offensive side, as he was struggling at intermission with only six points. He had 17 in the second half, ending the game with 23 points on 50% shooting. It was really nice to see Kuzma affect the game in multiple ways as opposed to only being a scoring threat or having an off-night shooting while negatively affecting the Lakers on the defensive end as well.