On a night where Lonzo Ball struggled to find his shot and the Los Angeles Lakers came out flat, the home town Lakers still nearly pulled off a 22-point comeback victory against the New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis finished with 27 points and 17 rebounds, and DeMarcus Cousins added 22 points and 11 rebounds of his own in the victory that was anything but straight forward.
The Pelicans led for the first three quarters of Sunday's contest at Staples Center, enjoying a game-high 22-point advantage early in the second quarter. Everything about Sunday's game for the first three quarter felt like it was a blowout in the making, with an unprepared Lakers' team failing defensively and struggling to score consistently.
Then, with about 90 seconds remaining in the third quarter, a makeshift unit that featured Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and rookie Josh Hart making his home debut cut a 20-point deficit with 1:26 remaining in the quarter to an 11-point disadvantage entering the fourth quarter.
Suddenly, Staples Center was alive, and the Lakers were back into a game that they had no business being in.
"I was going up and down the bench looking for guys that were going to play at that level," Walton explained how he came upon the hodgepodge lineup that worked wonders on the night. "We had some guys tonight I didn't think that were mentally or physically ready for it. So, I kept making subs trying to find a group of guys that were going to compete the way we want to compete. And that was it. That was probably the first time that lineup's ever played together. Honestly."
With Ball and the majority of the starters watching from the bench, the makeshift lineup continued to play stingy, energetic defense which also translated to points on the offensive end. Clarkson, Kuzma and Randle all found their shooting shoes and the trio of bench players contributed three of the four Lakers to score in double figures on the night.
Unfortunately for Walton, Ingram picked up his fifth foul with the Lakers within three points and broke up the unit. The coach put Ball back in the game at that point, with the Lakers leading in a one possession game.
Still, the combination of Kuzma, Randle, Hart and Clarkson kept the Lakers charging forward. The foursome helped the Lakers take a 110-106 lead with 4:16 remaining in the game. When Hart went to the bench with 3:33 to play, the Lakers led 110-108, and the Lakers had incredibly outscored the Pelicans by 21 points while the former Villanova guard graced the court.
Over those final four minutes, however, the Pelicans outscored the Lakers 13-2 and handed the Lakers their second loss of the young season.
Ball finished with eight points, 13 assists and eight rebounds, but his five turnovers and 3-13 shooting hinted that this was not one of his better nights. More telling, the Lakers were outscored by 24 points during the 36 minutes and 24 seconds the 19-year-old spent on the court.
Even on an off night, Ball flirted with history.
After becoming only the third player alongside Michael Jordan and LeBron James to record a game with 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists before their 22nd birthday (since 1983-84) in Phoenix two nights earlier, Ball's 13 assists on Sunday night made him only the third Lakers' rookie to record 13 or more assists. Earvin "Magic" Johnson hit the 13-assist mark twice as a rookie, while Norm Nixon holds the rookie record with 14 assists.
Considering Sunday night was Ball's third ever NBA game and he did not appear to be having an especially strong performance, one would be shocked if the former UCLA Bruin doesn't claim the Lakers' rookie record in the near future and absolutely obliterate the 14-assist mark at some point when Ball and the Lakers' offense clicks for 48 minutes.
Until then, the Lakers continue to face the gantlet of the NBA schedule with John Wall and the Washington Wizards coming to town on Wednesday night.
Notes: Clarkson finished with a team-high 24 points to go along with five assists. Kuzma finished with 20 points and six rebounds in the loss. Randle tabbed 11 points oon 5-6 shooting in 24 minutes. E'Twaun Moore of the Pelicans scored 19 points and converted eight of nine field goal attempts.