Lakers wipe out 27-point deficit to beat the Mavericks
The Mavericks went right to work Sunday afternoon building the mountain the Lakers would spend the rest of the day climbing.
Luka Doncic, smothered by Anthony Davis, coolly stepped back and flicked his wrist, splashing home a three. And then another and another.
Dallas couldn’t miss; the Lakers couldn’t make. The Mavericks would make seven three-pointers in the first 12 minutes and 10 to lead by 27 before the Lakers could get just one to go through the hoop.
But slowly, the Lakers began to climb, slowly at first before steadily gaining pace.
And from there, Jarred Vanderbilt decided he and his teammates were going to sprint.
While Davis and LeBron James hit the big shots that delivered the Lakers a stunning 111-108 win Sunday, none of it would’ve been possible without Vanderbilt.
The Lakers routed the Warriors on Thursday night, with Austin Reaves leading the second unit with a big third quarter while Malik Beasley scored 25.
“A lot of the times, I would say, ‘Don’t look at the stat sheet,’ because he does all the things that don’t really go into the stat sheet,” Austin Reaves said before listing the numbers.
Vanderbilt had 15 points. He grabbed 17 rebounds. He had four steals. Vanderbilt shut Doncic down faster than the failed scoreboard marriage proposal that happened in the first half.
Davis had 30 points and 15 rebounds, James gritted his way to 26 points and Dennis Schroder, starting for the injured D’Angelo Russell, finished with 16 points and eight assists.
Vanderbilt had eight points, eight rebounds and three steals in the third quarter, dragging the Lakers right back into the game.
“I really was just trying to up the intensity, be a little bit more physical. I knew we needed it at that point,” Vanderbilt said of the second half. “Just trying to bring the energy, bring the effort and just try to change the game momentum-wise.”
The Lakers have all kinds of momentum suddenly, now winners of three consecutive games and four out of five since the NBA’s trade deadline.
Vanderbilt, one of the team’s acquisitions, has looked invaluable as a do-it-all defender with the smarts to find ways to help on offense without a traditional set of scorer’s skills.
“He comes out and set the tone for us defensively on Luka, getting some steals and making him shoot some tough shots,” Davis said. “His rebounding on both ends of the floor, it just started an effect for our group to lock in defensively. And on the other end, he knows guys like to play off of him and make him shoot and he knows how to play off of it. He knows with his corner cutting and crashing to the glass, getting us extra possessions, his value for our team, you can’t even put it into words what he brings and does for us.”
The Lakers have 22 games remaining after a big win over Golden State on Thursday, and the left-for-dead team suddenly looks like a playoff contender.
The swing in momentum was so severe on Sunday that James played through a right foot injury that sent him to the court in severe pain.
“It’s been better. That’s for sure. But I definitely wasn’t going to go to the locker room and not finish the game out tonight,” he said. “Just understood the importance of the game and then with the momentum that we had, I felt like we could still win after being down. We’ll monitor it the next couple days, see how it feels and go from there.”
James walked out of the arena with a significant limp.
From James’ determination to Reaves’ jawing with Dallas’ Josh Green to the Lakers having their second 25-plus-point comeback this year, there’s little question when it comes to the team’s resolve.
That was true before the deadline. Now the Lakers just have better role players.
It’s already been Russell and Malik Beasley at the forefront in Laker wins since the deadline; Sunday it was Vanderbilt’s turn.
Locked in on Doncic, who scored just 12 points after the first quarter, Vanderbilt continued to show that he can be one of the Lakers’ biggest defensive weapons.
“My mindset was to just make him uncomfortable. He’s a hell of a player when he’s comfortable and get into his rhythm and get into his zone,” Vanderbilt said. “I was just trying to disrupt that, just picking him up 94 [feet], making him work. I knew throughout the course of the game he’s going to get tired, get fatigued just bring the ball up and down the whole court and then try to make a move after I’ve already cut eight seconds off the clock. So, I knew it was going to get tiring. My thing was to just get up in him and force him to drive. And just be physical with him and make him uncomfortable.”
The plan worked, Vanderbilt’s defense keying a 27-point comeback in a game where the Lakers never got into rhythm from three-point land. The team finished just six of 34 (Vanderbilt made his only attempt).
Since the 2020-21 season, only one team has won a game in which it took at least 30 threes and made a lower percentage than the Lakers’ 17.6% on Sunday. In league history, only 11 teams have done it.
After beating the Golden State Warriors with shooting and skill, they dominated the Mavericks with force and will, the kind of versatility the Lakers hope to use as they climb the mountain into the postseason that they built for themselves by starting the season 2-10.
“Before the break, we encouraged everybody to get some rest but know that coming out of this break, we have to be ready to be busy,” coach Darvin Ham said. “And really start forcing our will, so to speak, on the rest of this season so that we can secure a spot and get to where we want to get to. And you’re witnessing the process of that.”
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