On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers lost their fifth game in a row after giving up 40 points in the first quarter and trailing the Denver Nuggets by as many as 15 points over the first 12 minutes.
That deficit would jump to 19 points in the third quarter despite LA having trimmed the difference to only four points at the start of the second half.
The fourth quarter, however, provided a spark that had Lakers coach visibly and audibly beaming after the 127-121 loss.
"We found it," Walton said in the post-game press conference. "We found our passion, our fight, our togetherness, [our] playing for one another. We saw it firsthand there. What an effort those guys gave."
One of those guys, in particular, served as the lightning rod that electrified Staples Center back to life for the fourth quarter. Ivica Zubac, who is a 19-year-old rookie out of Croatia played a career-high 26 minutes and recorded a double-double with 11 point, 13 rebounds, three blocks, one steal and one assist.
While Lou Williams played a major role by scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter comeback, Zubac played beyond his years and scored seven points, pulled down five rebounds and blocked two shots in that final period.
"I thought 'Zu' was really good today," Walton said after the game and credited the rookie's time in the NBA Development League for the growth.
"This is the second time I've played in Staples Center, so it felt good to play in front of the home crowd, and I hope I can have more moments like this."
Zubac continued, "I'm trying to prove I'm not in this league just [as a] bench guy, going to do little stuff. I'm trying to prove I'm a good player and that I can help my team."
Zubac's locker is next to Brandon Ingram's locker, and the Lakers' no. 2 pick had come out of the shower to find access to his locker blocked by cameras and microphones interviewing the Croatian on his big night. Upon hearing Zubac say "I'm trying to prove I'm a good player," Ingram spoke over the cameras and corrected his fellow rookie: "Great player."
Ingram comes out of the shower & smiles at all the cameras surrounding Zubac. BI: "the man of the hour" — Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) January 18, 2017
"He has an amazing skill set," Ingram said about his fellow rookie and spoke about how the two of them have built a relationship in the weight room and doing extra work before games. "He's going to be really good."
Along with Zubac, Williams, Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson, Ingram played a role in the final unit that made inroads against the Nuggets. However, core youngsters Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell notably sat and watched the final quarter from the bench.
After the game, Walton said, "I would hope and I think with the guys we have, they sat on the bench and saw five guys give it their all. It's so much fun to watch that and be a part of that that I would hope that would teach in its own right."