Suddenly Anthony Davis was leaping off the bench in celebration, LeBron James was flexing through his sweatshirt, and a look of joyful relief passed through the Lakers as Dwight Howard screamed into a Chicago crowd.
“I thought we was at home for a second,” Howard said. “I forgot we was still in Chicago.”
For three quarters, the Lakers were miserable. The Bulls out-hustled and out-shot them, building a lead no opponent had been able to this season.
Then for one quarter, the Lakers’ showed off their depth.
The Lakers won their sixth in a row Tuesday, defeating the Bulls 118-112 despite an off night from Davis. James led the team with his third triple-double in a row: 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
But it was a quintet of reserves who took the game back for the Lakers. Troy Daniels, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook and Howard started the fourth quarter facing a 13-point deficit, but a 14-0 run gave the Lakers their first real hope of the night.
Because of them, the Lakers (6-1) completed a 3-0 trip and they’ll go home Wednesday with the best record in the NBA — one of three teams with only one loss.
“They deserve the game ball,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of the reserves. “AD was in foul trouble, Bron was looking exhausted, and both those guys needed to stay on the bench, and other guys needed to step up. And they did.”
Cook finished with 17 points while Kuzma added 15. Howard scored six points with six rebounds and was a menace defensively.
“They made up for their first-half performance,” James said, smiling slyly. “Nah, but they were great, man.”
James kept the Lakers afloat during the first half, scoring 16 points with eight rebounds and four assists. Chicago built a 19-point lead in the second quarter, the largest deficit the Lakers had faced all season. Even after James helped the Lakers to an 8-0 run, the Bulls answered back, taking advantage of turnovers to give themselves a 65-48 cushion at halftime.
Davis, who grew up in Chicago, struggled early. He missed seven of his first eight shots and could be seen hanging his head on the bench in frustration. At halftime he had four points on two-of-nine shooting, three fouls and a plus/minus rating of minus-17.
“I told him nothing matters,” James said. “Whatever happened in the first half just flush it down the toilet. He’s gonna make some great plays in the second half, especially in the fourth. And he did exactly that.”
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Lakers trailed 93-80. That’s when Vogel trusted his bench to fix what most of his starters couldn’t.
“Our coaches and our starters and our leaders were just giving us confidence the entire time,” Cook said. “That timeout going into the fourth, you just heard them constantly building us up, building us up, building us up. That confidence that they gave us really gave us that extra burst.”
Kuzma hit a three-pointer — his first make of six attempts in the game — and scored 11 points in the fourth.
“We did a great job defensively,” Kuzma said. “Getting stops and scoring, and playing as a team.”
Cook scored eight points in the fourth quarter, including a big three-pointer, adding two assists, two rebounds and a steal in the period.
Howard grabbed five rebounds, and blocked a shot by Bulls reserve Coby White that energized the crowd. A “Let’s go Lakers” chant began in the United Center, and the Lakers’ bench emptied in jubilation.
Davis was often the first player off the bench, running onto the court.
“Any time our bench comes in and does great things, I want to be the first one off the bench cheering those guys on right on the court, jumping up and down, because it gives them confidence as well,” Davis said.
“We’re one big team. No matter who is on the floor, we got to have guys come in and play and we should be able to throw anybody in the fire.”
It is often Davis on whom the Lakers must rely. Tuesday night a group of role players showed they can take some of the weight too.