Down two starters because of suspensions, the Lakers need a source of power from someone else.
That they got inspired play from Kyle Kuzma was not really a surprise, but that the Lakers got inspired play from reserve Johnathan Williams was a total surprise.
But even with the effort they gave, the Lakers dropped a 143-142 game to the San Antonio Spurs in overtime after LeBron James missed a game-winning shot as time expired Monday night at Staples Center.
Kuzma had 37 points, one point shy of his career high. He played 45 minutes as the starting forward in place of Brandon Ingram, who was out serving the first game of his four-game suspension for fighting. Kuzma also had eight rebounds and three assists.
“Kuz, his mentality is awesome,” coach Luke Walton said. “He makes mistakes. He knows he needs to get better on defense, but he doesn’t take it personal.
“He texted me after the last game and said that will never happen again. That would be nice if it never did, but that’s his mentality. And it’s just something he works on. A second-year player who is able to have nights like this is why we’re so high on him.”
Williams was forced to play because Kuzma had been the backup center but now he was starting. So when starting center JaVale McGee got into foul trouble, Williams was needed to provide some energy.
He had just signed a two-way contract Friday because of his defense.
And that showed in his three blocked shots, all of them key moments.
Williams also had eight points and four rebounds.
Williams had an offensive rebound in the overtime that led to another possession for the Lakers.
The Lakers didn’t score, but Williams got back on defense and blocked a shot by DeMar DeRozan to give the ball back to the Lakers.
“That’s what we’ve seen from him [Williams] since training camp,” Walton said. “It’s what made our staff start to really take a close look at him. Defensively, he’s active and he’s really intelligent. His communication for being a guy calling out coverages is really impressive. Those were the things we saw.”
Kuzma drilled a three-point basket in the corner in front of the Lakers bench off a pass from James, pulling them to within 128-125 with 35.6 seconds left.
James hit a three-pointer to tie the score 128-128 with 2.4 seconds left, and the game went into overtime after DeRozan missed a shot at the buzzer.
Kuzma was doing his thing all game long.
He scored on a 360-degree spin, double-pump, hanging layup over LaMarcus Aldridge and followed that up with a floater later in the second quarter that prompted the fans to scream “Kuzzzz!”