Julius Randle had bullied Chicago on the glass all night long, but with the game tied and only 45 seconds remaining, the 22-year-old turned to his footwork and strength.
Randle took the ball into his own hands, driving right at Nikola Mirotic then spinning off of him to bank in the go-ahead bucket, as his 13 points and career-high 20 rebounds led the Lakers to a 96-90 victory over the Bulls.
After playing the night before in New Orleans and learning in the morning that Nick Young (calf muscle strain) will be out for at least two weeks, the Lakers (10-10) were sloppy offensively, shooting just 40.7 percent with a season-high 24 turnovers.
So, the team that entered the game 0-6 when held to fewer than 100 points turned to its defense.
Rookie Brandon Ingram used his 7-foot-3 wingspan and plenty of help defense from teammates to hold All-Star Jimmy Butler to a woeful 4-of-18 clip from the field.
Butler did wind up with 22 points thanks to a 13-of-15 mark on free throws, but it was far from the season-best 40-point performance that he dropped on the Lakers just 10 days earlier at Staples Center.
“I think he embarrassed us at home and guys understood that,” said Lou Williams, who had 18 points. “We tried to make as many of his catches as tough as we can, make him hit tough shots. And it worked.”
Aside from just Butler, the Lakers held Chicago (10-7) to its worst field goal percentage of the year (35.2), which included a 4-of-21 mark on 3-pointers.
The Bulls also entered the game with the league’s second-best rebounding differential (+6.1), but Los Angeles beat them on the boards, 60-46.
Larry Nance Jr. contributed to this with 12 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the year, but his reasoning behind this success was simple.
“Short answer: Julius,” he said. “When one player has one-third of your rebounds that’s a good recipe any night.”
Despite shooting just 4-of-13 from the field, Randle was invaluable to his team’s scoring, as he secured plenty of extra possessions with nine offensive rebounds.
Jordan Clarkson also pitched in 18 points while Luol Deng added 10 points and eight rebounds against his former team.
But in a sloppy game for both sides, head coach Luke Walton was quick to point out that the Lakers only discussed defense before the game, which paid off against a Chicago club that had won six of its last eight contests.
“Our guys have proven that when their backs are against the wall they can step up for a challenge,” Walton said. “They did it tonight. That’s a great win against a very good team.”
After getting blown out in New Orleans the night before, it looked like it would be another rough game for the Lakers, as Chicago used a 10-2 run to quickly grab the night’s biggest lead at 28-14.
However, L.A. took a big bite out of its deficit in the second quarter, beginning on a 17-7 run. The Lakers used some clamp-down defense in this period to outscore the Bulls by 11 and tie the game at halftime, 47-47.
The teams went back and forth throughout the third quarter, but the Lakers finally cracked through with an 8-2 run to take a 78-77 lead with nine minutes left.
L.A. appeared to have a big stop down the final stretch, but Dwyane Wade grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Butler for the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:30 remaining.
That’s when Randle went to work for the biggest bucket of the night.
After that put the Lakers back up by two, Butler tried to tie the game again on a fadeaway, but Ingram was there to contest the shot. Williams followed by hitting 1-of-2 free throws, giving Chicago one last chance to put the game in overtime.
But it just wasn’t Butler’s night. He found himself wide-open at the top of the arc with 16.4 seconds to go, yet he airballed the tying attempt, sealing victory for the Lakers, who held the Bulls to 6-of-21 shooting in the fourth.
Chicago’s Robin Lopez had 10 points, nine rebounds and a career-high eight blocks, which were also the most swats in the NBA this season. … The Bulls also received strong performances from Taj Gibson (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (14 points, eight rebounds, six assists). … The Lakers won despite attempting only eight 3-pointers, making two. … A sold-out crowd of 21,773 filled United Center.