Mar 8, 2018 6:20 PM ET
The vast majority of Brook Lopez’s career has been defined by his post play. The last two years have been defined by his 3-point shooting.
In Wednesday’s win over Orlando, the Lakers’ center provided a vintage performance, bullying his way to 27 points, primarily by shooting 11-of-14 from inside the arc.
“It was part of the game plan because we felt like he had an advantage on the block down there,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
Indeed, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (not known for his defensive prowess) continuously found himself helpless against Lopez down low.
The majority of the game saw Lopez use 10 NBA seasons worth of post moves on Vucevic. Lopez finished with a 12-of-15 clip from the field when defended by Vucevic, plus three assists.
Then, at the end of the third quarter, Lopez began establishing a two-man game with Isaiah Thomas that ultimately pushed the Lakers past the finish line.
The connection started in the most unlikely way possible: an improvised pick-and-roll with 7-foot Lopez handling the ball and 5-foot-9 Thomas setting the screen.
A surprisingly effective screener, Thomas (the NBA’s shortest player) looked like he was pushing a lineman sled out on the football field, practically lifting Jonathon Simmons into the air and tossing him into Vucevic.
This cleared a path for Lopez to strut to the rim and throw down the dunk just before the shot clock expired.
From that point on, Lopez and Thomas started playing a more conventional — but just as effective — two-man style.
Thomas had six assists in the fourth quarter, half of which went to Lopez. The Magic’s perimeter defense simply didn’t have a solution for Thomas’ quick first step and flashy ball handling. He constantly beat his man, and eviscerated switches.
Thomas had little problem penetrating into the paint, where he would soak up the attention of a help defender or two. All that was left was to flip the ball to a big man hanging out around the rim or kick to a shooter on the outside.
Lopez was the primary beneficiary of this, cashing in the clean looks that Thomas gave him.
“IT was so spectacular just setting people up, getting assists, hockey assists,” Lopez said, “the whole game, but especially in the fourth quarter. He really set the tone and set the pace for us.”
And when the Lakers trailed by one with just 5.0 seconds left, they let Lopez go to work in the post.
On their final possession, they had Lopez exploit Vucevic yet again. Lopez caught the inbounds pass and faked a drive to the right before spinning the opposite direction and catching a Vucevic foul to the head.
“He made a good move,” Vucevic said. “He’s a tough matchup. He’s big, he’s crafty, he’s really good at getting his own shot up.
With the game on the line, Lopez stepped to the foul line and delivered, sinking both free throws to give the Lakers the lead for good.