The playoffs are just around the corner and the Los Angeles Lakers, still fighting for their position in the big dance, found themselves in a contest with the same type of intensity on Tuesday night.
Pitted against the New York Knicks and their strong, aggressive defense, the Lakers struggled and clawed their way through 53 minutes of basketball and ultimately overcame Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and the Knicks, with a Talen Horton-Tucker game-winning triple over his childhood hero, a fellow Chicagoan.
Dreams to reality fr https://t.co/88tfZRQNet
— Talen (@Thortontucker) April 15, 2021
Horton-Tucker exemplified the Lakers season in just one game. Pushed into a huge role by the absences of LeBron James, Dennis Schröder, and Alex Caruso who left the game in the first half with a sore foot, Horton-Tucker became the team’s sole ball-handler out on the perimeter. The result was an up-and-down performance from the 20-year-old. There were the 10 assists that proved crucial in a defensive slugfest with little scoring. But there were also the seven turnovers, many of which came in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and the difficulties in defending Rose.
But the Lakers never lost faith in their young point guard. After a short break on the bench to catch his breath and regain his focus late in the fourth quarter, Frank Vogel once again gave THT the keys down the stretch. And while there were still some struggles, Horton-Tucker’s eight points in overtime, including the crucial go-ahead bucket with 21 seconds remaining, proved to be just enough to get past the Knicks, giving the Lakers a winning streak for the first time since March.
It’s not a surprise that the Lakers trusted the Iowa State product, anymore. Kyle Kuzma, who led the Lakers with 23 points, praised the “big balls” needed to take that shot. Vogel used a less colorful description: “He’s got big guts, I can say that.”
Anthony Davis, the other Chicoagan to put together a big performance, focused on Horton-Tucker’s heart and confidence: “You don’t see that from a lot of players.”
“He wants to be great in this league,” Davis continued. “He wants to make the right plays and he’s always asking questions. That’s all you can ask for from a young player.”
The Lakers’ rough, injury-riddled season has had the silver lining of giving Horton-Tucker valuable reps like this. He has continuously improved as a playmaker, despite plenty of growing pains like the ones he showed against New York, but the mentality to keep pushing forward, play through the struggles, and still make the right plays when the team needs it most is something that can’t be taught.
And with the postseason fast approaching, Talen Horton-Tucker is repaying his coaches’ and teammates’ faith in him and earning the trust to take the wheel when the games matter most.