Facing an undefeated team and without their young star, the Lakers needed every unsung hero to step up and save their hopes of a Summer League championship.
Lonzo Ball dazzled in the first half but left the game with tightness in his right calf. Dallas took advantage and brought the Lakers’ once-26-point lead down to one in the final two minutes.
With the No. 2 overall pick on the sidelines, Los Angeles turned to its crew of undrafted rookies and NBA G League standouts, who held on and delivered a 108-98 victory in the Summer League semifinals.
It was another resilient effort from a Lakers crew that has won five straight games after dropping its first two in Las Vegas.
“A lot of teams would just lay down … and lose the first one of the tournament and be content going home,” said Matt Thomas, who scored 20 points. “We have a lot of guys that are hungry, a lot of guys that love to win.”
The Mavericks entered Thomas & Mack Center with a 10-0 combined record from the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, but the Lakers quickly put them on the path to their first loss of the summer.
L.A. hit 13 of its 15 shots in a blistering first quarter, then rolled off 18 unanswered points in the next frame to seize a 60-34 lead.
Ball was in full control during this first half, notching a double-double before intermission while wowing the crowd with moments like punching the ball ahead to Alex Caruso on the fast-break, and hitting Kyle Kuzma for another signature full-court assist.
But Ball — who exited with 16 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and zero turnovers — felt his calf tighten up in the middle of the third quarter. He left the game with a 17-point lead, yet Dallas pounced.
Led by Ball’s fellow top-10 pick, Dennis Smith Jr. (21 points, six assists), the Mavericks went on a late 19-2 run to chop the Lakers’ advantage down to a single point with two minutes remaining.
“They had a lot of possessions where they got full-court layups, and we turned the ball over 11 times in the third quarter,” said Kuzma, who dropped game-high 24 points. “So that kind of killed us.”
But Caruso hit to free throws to give the Lakers a bit of a cushion, then NBA G League MVP Vander Blue put on his best Lonzo impression by knifing to the hoop before firing a cross-court pass to Thomas in the corner.
Thomas pump-faked his defender, resettled, then splashed his sixth 3-pointer of the night to seal Dallas’ fate.
“I had already made a couple throughout the game, so (the defender) closed out pretty hard,” Thomas said. “So I hit him with a shot fake, inside dribble and knocked it down.”
The Lakers padded the score with free throws at the end, but Thomas’ triple was a fitting dagger on a night when the team shot an absurd 17-of-22 from 3-point range.
Thomas hit 7-of-10 from the field, while Kuzma splashed five triples of his own to help fill the void left by Ball, who felt optimistic about playing in Monday’s championship against Portland.
“It’s tight still, but we play at 7 tomorrow,” Ball said, “so hopefully I’m good to go.”
The Lakers shot 60.7 percent from the field. … Blue scored 17 points with six assists. … Yogi Ferrell had 15 points for Dallas, while Johnathan Motley added nine points and nine rebounds.