Column: Young Lakers are practically bursting with joy after toppling Warriors
For three seasons, they’ve been nowhere. Now they’re coming from everywhere.
Larry Nance Jr. rolling down the lane, Nick Young falling into the stands. Julius Randle bouncing off the glass.
For three seasons, they’ve been one player. Now, they’re endless players.
D’Angelo Russell with the ball. Jordan Clarkson with the soar. Lou Williams with the scores.
With a new core, a new coach, and mere months removed from the worst record in franchise history, the Lakers are not yet great again.
But quickly, stunningly, they are fun again, and, man, did they have a blast Friday night at Staples Center in beating up on The Greatest Team Ever.
The breathtaking final score was 117-97, the Lakers beating the mighty Golden State Warriors from start to finish, from Durant to Curry, from Dub to City.
They beat them from first flying fastbreak to the final strains of “I Love L.A.” as Jordan Clarkson literally danced off the floor. They beat them into a pouting, screaming mess, countering with a joyful, flying, relentless attack.
“There’s really nothing to lose for us,” Coach Luke Walton said before the game. “It’s one of those games we can come out swinging.”
Goodness, did they swing. They swung for the fences and connected, again and again, efficiently, dramatically, Russell hitting a three-pointer and screaming into the stands, Young hitting a three-pointer and screaming to the sky, Randle finishing it off with a continuous late bull-rush to the basket.
“That’s a good start for us, it’s a great win for us and shows us how good we can do,” said Randle, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Yes, the tired-looking Warriors were coming off an emotional Thursday night win over Oklahoma City in Oakland. But this is the same team picked to dominate the entire basketball universe after adding Kevin Durant to their two-time NBA Finals group.
“We have guys that want to win, that are tough, that aren’t going to quit,” Walton said.
The team is as fun as the Dance Cam between the third and fourth quarter, when not only were the fans shown dancing, but also streaming video of the young players dancing. When is the last time you’ve seen that much unbridled joy from this storied and recently staid franchise?
This was Walton’s first regular-season game against a team that he helped coach for two seasons, and, with strong control of a team that was in strong control, it became clear that Walton has already left those Warriors days behind
During their second home game of the post-Kobe Bryant Era, a couple of things were obvious.
They pass. Man, do they pass. There is seemingly more passing in one possession this season than in entire games last season. This is no indictment of Bryant, but simply a reminder of how the awestruck respect shown by his teammates turned the last couple of years into a nightly one-man production.
With no star to hang on, these Lakers play without giant egos or stubborn selfishness, witness the scene late in the first quarter, when one sequence went like this: pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, off-balance shot by Williams, ball picked off in midair and laid in by Nance.
They finished with 26 assists on 45 shots, while outrebounding the Warriors, 51-40, and Walton was thrilled.
“That means we are sharing the ball, playing like a team, and fighting,” he said.
These Lakers also hustle on defense. They don’t always play good defense, they still seem confused and are sometimes beaten badly, but it is not for lack of effort.
Once in the second quarter, the Warrior found Steph Curry alone on a fastbreak, yet believe it or not, all five Lakers beat him downcourt. In his previous 157 games Curry had made at least one three-pointer. On Friday, he made zero, missing all 10 attempts.
“Just tried to play with a high intensity, high level the entire game,” Randle said.
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram takes hard foul by Warriors forward David West in the first quarter.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram scores a clutch basket over Warriors forward Draymond Green in the second half on Friday.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Lou Williams is congratulated by teammates after scoring a key basket against the Warriors in the fourth quarter on Friday.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Warriors forward Draymond Green slaps the ball away from Lakers forward Brandon Ingram in the third quarter on Friday.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Warriors forward Kevin Durant gets fouled on the way to the basket against the Lakers in the first half on Friday.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Lou Williams shoots and scores against Warriors forward Klay Thompson in the fourth quarter on Friday.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Luol Deng drives to the basket against Warriors forward Kevin Durant in the first quarter Friday.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. throws down a dunk overWarriors forward David West in the second quarter.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers Coach Luke Walton yells instructions to his players from the bench during the game against the Warriors.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Julius Randle goes to the basket against Warriors center Zaza Pachulia and guard Klay Thompson during the second quarter.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers center Tarik Black throws down a dunk against the Warriors in the second quarter.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson tries to beat Warriors guard Stephen Curry off the dribble in the second quarter.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
These Lakers also don’t seem beaten down when they are beaten down. Whatever calmness that the baritone of Walton is preaching, it’s working.
In the third quarter, after Golden State had cut a 21-point lead to seven, Russell worked the shot clock down and then drained a three-pointer in Klay Thompson’s face. At the other end of the floor, the Lakers’ defense then crossed up a Draymond Green playmaking attempt that caused the volatile star to simply stand still and shake his head and momentarily quit while the action buzzed around him. Who would have that in a game like this, the person surrendering first would be a Warrior? A follow shot by Young pushed the lead back to a dozen with 3:59 left in the quarter and the Lakers never faltered.
“I am proud of our team playing the full 48,” Randle said.
This all seems crazy, but it also seems real. This seems like the Lakers are really building something.
Look at this season so far.
They beat Houston in the opener, and challenged in nearly every game on their ensuing trip. They were leading in Indiana in the final three minutes. They were within four in Utah in the final minute. They won at Atlanta at the end of the trip.
Several times during the telecasts of those road games, veteran announcer Stu Lantz could be heard simply laughing at the joy shown by the kids. It is a feeling that all Lakers fans can share today.
They may not yet be great, but they are wildly fun, and right now, that is more than enough.
The Lakers improved to 3-3 in Luke Walton’s first season as coach after a 117-97 victory over the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @BillPlaschke
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