Lonzo Ball drove down the baseline and made a layup that put his team up by eight points late in the fourth quarter over the Phoenix Suns. Play stopped for a timeout with 1:35 left and his teammates rushed over to him, jumping and grinning, delighted at what he’d done.
Only one person wasn’t reacting. Ball.
He walked over to the bench, stone-faced and emotionless.
“That’s what team’s supposed to do, pick you up, but there was more time on the clock,” Ball said. “You can’t get settled with anything in the league they come back too fast.”
In the second game of his NBA career, Lonzo Ball showed why his team fell in love with him six months ago. The Lakers beat the Suns 132-130 behind a near triple-double from their rookie point guard. Ball finished the game with 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
He became the first rookie in Lakers history to have at least 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. He became the first teenager since LeBron James to have such a game. He became the first NBA rookie overall since Blake Griffin in 2011 to have such a stat line, bouncing back from a season opener in which he had three points, nine rebounds and four assists. It was a bounce-back game after 24 hours of ridicule over his sluggish career opener.
“I’m used to it,” Ball said. “I know everybody’s going to say everything game by game. If I play bad on Sunday it’s going to be right back to he’s a bust.”
With the win, the Lakers improved to 1-1. The Suns, who lost their season opener by 48 points, fell to 0-2.
Brandon Ingram scored a career high 25 points on nine-of-14 shooting for the Lakers, while Brook Lopez, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma also reached double figures.
From Ball, it was a performance that included the kinds of dazzling plays that got the Lakers’ attention in the first place.
His best might have been one that didn’t tally on the score sheet. Late in the second quarter, Ball threw a full court pass, like a quarterback might deliver, to Corey Brewer who was underneath the opposite basket. Brewer was blocked from behind and couldn’t score.
Ball’s critics were many after Thursday nights’ 108-92 loss to the Clippers. But even before his much-stronger second act, he had one especially staunch supporter.
“I think Lonzo’s getting a bad rep for getting destroyed his first game,” coach Luke Walton said before Friday’s game. “The guy, personally I thought he could have had a double-double with rebounds and assists. We didn’t make any shots. He’ll figure out when to get his shots. I thought he was fine last night. It’s a good learning experience for everybody.”
Ball had three points on 1-of-6 shooting in his debut Thursday, with nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block. He was hounded by Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley, who was physically and verbally aggressive with the rookie.
Ball said after the game that he wished he was more aggressive with taking shots.
He didn’t shy away from shooting Friday night, taking 27 shots.
“Today I just had to do what I had to do to get the win,” Ball said. “I had to shoot more shots, so that’s what I did.”
Late in the fourth quarter, with their lead less than five, with Ball just two assists away from a triple double, he drove to the basket instead. The next time down the court he dished his ninth assist of the game, this one to Kuzma who finished with a finger roll off the backboard.
Then drove to the basket for a layup. Then he did it again finishing over his head, and the Suns called a timeout as every Laker but him celebrated.
Walton saw that happening and rushed out to scold his team. There was still 1:35 left on the clock, after all, and even with an eight-point lead, he didn’t want them to lose sight of that. Through the ruckus, he noticed Ball’s stoic expression.
“I’m not calling him Kobe, but Kobe was the same way,” Walton said. “As a teammate, I knew not even to touch Kobe in those moments because Kobe was locked in. … In those moments, the players that don’t let the pressure get to them, they stay calm.”
Although Phoenix got close, it was too great a deficit for the Suns to overcome.
Said Ball: “It doesn’t take me long to learn.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli