On Sunday night, the Lakers faced an opponent that refused to wallow in its recent misfortune.
The Toronto Raptors preferred to sprint past it.
They ended the Lakers’ winning streak at seven, beating the team with the best record in the NBA 113-104.
The Raptors (7-2) won despite missing two key players, and despite a triple-double from LeBron James and 27 points from Anthony Davis for the Lakers (7-2). Toronto was led by Pascal Siakam (24 points) and Fred VanVleet (23), and also received impactful performances off the bench from Chris Boucher (15 points) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (10).
“They are the best, the fastest team in the league, [most] fast-break points per game,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We knew that coming in. We had to execute offensively, and when we didn’t it was going to be a run-out that we couldn’t recover from. We’ve been showing great effort in transition defense, getting back in sprints and trying to make recovery plays. But that wasn’t really there for us tonight and it cost us.”
The Raptors are the defending NBA champions, but they entered this game looking very different from the team that toppled the Golden State Warriors in June. Kawhi Leonard left to play for the Clippers, Danny Green joined the Lakers, and on Friday starters Kyle Lowry (fractured hand) and Serge Ibaka (sprained ankle) suffered injuries that sidelined them for Sunday and beyond.
That meant players like Boucher, who came into the game averaging six minutes per game and whose name Davis struggled to pronounce afterward, Hollis-Jefferson and former Lakers developmental league player Matt Thomas all got early playing time and a chance to make their mark.
“They still got championship players, no matter,” said James, who had 13 points on five-for-15 shooting to go with 15 assists and 13 rebounds. “They were short-handed but they still got guys who are championship DNA players, so we didn’t take that lightly, and the guys that came in gave them a good boost.”
The Lakers generally kept control of the game early en route to an eight-point halftime lead.
They forced Siakam to miss 10 of his first 13 shots, including all five three-point attempts. The Lakers’ bench outscored the Raptors’ 29-16 in the first half, and while L.A. trailed in fast-break points, the disparity wasn’t stark (11-8).
Then Toronto figured out a way to take the game from them, dominating the second half. The Raptors showed how dangerous they can be on fastbreaks, and held the Lakers to 18 points in the third quarter.
The Lakers didn’t have a single fastbreak point in the second half, while the Raptors had 21.
Kyle Kuzma called transition defense the Lakers’ “Achilles’ heel,” albeit one talked about less during their winning streak.
“There was times where we were crashing, or corner guys are not getting back,” Davis said. “And once they get the rebound they have four guys who can get it and push it … And their guys are running. So it was a little bit of an effort thing where we wasn’t getting back.”
With 3:50 left in the game, the Lakers trailed by 12 and had one final burst left.
Kuzma, who had two points in the first three quarters, hit back-to-back threes to bring the Lakers to within six. A pair of free throws by James cut the deficit to four, but that was as close as the Lakers came. They missed five three-pointers in the next two minutes, while the Raptors just kept running.
“They played a better basketball game and credit the Raptors,” Vogel said. “They were terrific tonight. The guys that had started the game, but their guys coming off the bench with opportunities to play they don’t normally get, they made the best of it.”