When the Lakers found themselves trailing the 3-0 Washington Wizards by six with just 95 seconds remaining, it took a group effort to distill near-certain defeat into victory.
At the forefront of this effort were three lottery picks of the last four years, who all showed their potential in clutch moments of the Lakers’ 102-99 win.
Across his up-and-down rookie campaign, Brandon Ingram felt the struggles of being a lanky teenager battling night-to-night against the world’s best basketball players.
Dubbed “Tiny Dog” by last season’s veterans, Ingram was the Lakers’ alpha on a night that pitted the league’s second-youngest team against an Eastern Conference contender.
Ingram took over the fourth quarter, providing 11 points and six rebounds in that frame alone.
He sparked the comeback by pulling up from 16 feet out to cut Washington’s lead to four with 1:48 remaining. But no play was bigger than the Lakers’ final one of regulation.
Head coach Luke Walton put the ball in Ingram’s hands for an iso at the top of the arc. Well-guarded on the way to the rim, he released a wild shot that ricocheted off the glass. He then used all of his 7-foot-3 wingspan to reach back and flip it into the hoop to force overtime.
“That’s a play that we run in practice a lot,” Ingram said. “Just opened the floor and I saw an opportunity to attack the basket. I got to the rim and tried to draw a foul, but I had a second jump on it and just tipped it in.”
No play better encapsulated Ingram’s game on a night that saw him record his second career double-double with 19 points and a career-high-typing 10 rebounds.
Walton felt that it all stemmed when Ingram and Washington’s Kelly Oubre Jr. got into a vocal sparring session.
“When they kinda started jawing a little bit,” Walton said, “it, for whatever reason, got Brandon to another level.”
Torture vs. Composure
Two days before this game, Wizards center Marcin Gortat responded to a video of Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar, saying that the Lakers wouldn’t lose to Washington.
Gortat tweeted that his team’s all-star point guard, John Wall, would “torture him for 48min [sic].”
One of the best offensive players in the game, Wall put up numbers with 18 points and nine assists. But he shot just 7-of-22 from the field, and his team failed to crack the 100-point mark despite adding five minute of overtime.
“The way we were guarding tonight, we were all playing for one another,” Ball said. “No one was playing selfish. We weren’t leaving guys on islands. John Wall’s one of the fastest point guards in the whole NBA, and you could see every time he had the ball we had people on both sides of him.”
On the other end, Ball couldn’t find his shot either, going just 2-of-11 from the field toward six points.
But he also added eight rebounds and 10 assists, and made key plays with the game on the line.
With 23 seconds left, Ball made Gortat himself pay for unnecessarily following Ball into the paint and leaving his man, Julius Randle, wide open at the top of the arc.
Randle swished the 3-pointer, bringing the Lakers within one point and setting up Ingram’s tying bucket after Bradley Beal went 1-of-2 at the foul line.
In overtime, Ball got the Lakers’ scoring started with a layup. Then, halfway through overtime, he ran a pick-and-roll with Randle but caught Washington off guard with a skip pass to Kyle Kuzma for a triple that briefly took the lead.
When Beal and Wall retook the edge with a couple of layups, Ball found KCP open in the corner for the go-ahead trey on of a well-designed play by Walton.
“The KCP one was all Coach Luke,” Ball said. “He drew up the perfect play. Ju set one of the best screens all night and freed him up. (Caldwell-Pope) makes big shots.”
While Randle’s off-ball screen on Caldwell-Pope’s huge bucket was vital to the win, Walton hadn’t planned for him to have even been in the game at that point.
In fact, Randle had played just six minutes heading into the fourth quarter, and was inserted to give a break to Larry Nance Jr. — who had a huge night with a career-high-tying 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds.
But Randle went full-throttle on both sides of the ball, leading to Walton leaving him in for the rest of the game.
“Last year if he wouldn’t have played and I tried to put him in the fourth, he probably would have shut down a little bit on me,” Walton said. “Today — it’s not for me — but for himself and his teammates, he was great in that fourth quarter. We don’t win that game without him.”
Randle also had two enormous stops when switched onto Wall in overtime.
With just under three minutes left, he cut off Wall’s driving lane and forced a shot clock violation by swatting his fadeaway jumper.
Then, with Washington looking to tie in the final 15 seconds, Wall was able to build momentum coming downhill toward Randle, who went straight up to protect the rim and again blocked the shot, this time off of Wall and out of bounds for a change of possession.
When the Wizards attempted a full-court press in the final seconds, the ball found its way to Randle, who hammered an exclamation-point dunk to cap the Lakers’ victory over a team that wasn’t ready for a fight.
”We didn’t respect them from the get-go,” Beal said. “We thought it was going to be easy, and that we could just come out here and beat them. … They earned it, and they beat us.”
The Lakers wore Minneapolis throwback uniforms for the first time in 15 years. … Kuzma (15 points) and Caldwell-Pope (14 points, six rebounds, five assists) were clutch late. … Washington was led by Wall, Beal (28 points) and Gortat (11 points, 14 rebounds). … The Wizards shot 5-of-23 in the fourth quarter. … A crowd of 18,996 sold out STAPLES Center.