Despite the fact that they’ll be an afterthought come playoff time, the Los Angeles Lakers have been a source of much consternation this season. My mentioning this doesn’t come from a place of surprise — this is always the case for a team with LeBron James on their roster — but it is a bit aggravating when you consider how deep, interesting and fun the actually good NBA teams are.
Because conversation about their team dominates so much of the public space, forgive me rebelling and not watching many actual Lakers games this year. I’ve heard bad things, but I’m still not sure I expected what went down in the first quarter of tonight’s game.
The Toronto Raptors came out and built a 13-2 lead before the first Lakers timeout. Then, a 19-2 lead at the second Lakers timeout. By dominating a small Los Angeles lineup with ornate offensive sets like “throw Scottie Barnes the ball in the post” and “Pascal Siakam finds Malik Monk and, seven inches taller, shoots over him”, the Raptors were making a LeBron-led team look like a high school squad. It was funny, depressing and extremely weird.
Scottie scoring SIX straight pic.twitter.com/uKZ3oBamcM— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 15, 2022
Luckily for the Lakers, things would come to balance over the course of the game. Frank Vogel’s squad found some lineup combinations that gave them defensive presence, LeBron padded stats, and the supporting cast would make some threes after an 0-for-16(!!) start. They’d get the lead down to nine with 2:19 to go. Ultimately, though, the Raptors closed the deal and came away with their fourth straight win, 114-103.
On a night where Fred VanVleet returned to the lineup after missing time with knee soreness and didn’t look quite himself, shooting 3-for-14, it was once again Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes making the extraordinary look ordinary. Siakam continued an excellent stretch of play that now goes back a couple months, tallying 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on 9-for-17 shooting. He feasted on Monk at every opportunity, as the Raptors looked to either switch a smaller guard onto him (the Lakers had at least three out there at all times) or just have him hunt the matchup one-on-one. The result was utter dominance, as he’d also get to the charity stripe and go 7-for-10.
Barnes, on the other hand, established himself early before disappearing a bit later in the game. 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting was solid, and Barnes’ presence really lifted Toronto in the first half. You noticed the lack of ball movement and size when Nurse went to a Banton, Boucher and Thad Young bench lineup — which was a big reason Scottie played a team-high 40 minutes on Tuesday.
Neither Barnes nor Siakam led the Raptors in scoring, though. That honour went to Gary Trent Jr., who could be best described as a lot in this one, scoring a team-high 28. Shooting contested shots like they were going out of style, Trent Jr. went just 7-for-19 from the field, but thanks to some trash talk and timely elbows, got under the skin of the Lakers. This resulted in a steady parade to the free throw line for the young guard, as he’d go 11-for-13 in that category.
@gtrentjr pic.twitter.com/Auzsh5QkbR— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 15, 2022
It wasn’t all great for the Raps. The bench struggled tonight, as Khem Birch and Dalano Banton in particular struggled to find their footing in limited minutes, going -8 and -11 respectively. This meant playing the starters big minutes, even as the Raptors were up 20 or more for most of the game. In an ideal world, Toronto could’ve taken that early lead and stepped on some necks; unfortunately, the Lakers remained in (distant) striking distance.
On the opposing side, LeBron James had a game-high 30 points and Talen Horton-Tucker had 20 off the bench. Los Angeles falls to 29-39 with the loss, while the Raptors improve to 38-30, staying a game back of Cleveland for the sixth seed in the East.
Next up, they play the Clippers tomorrow night to finish a back-to-back.