Building big leads hasn’t been an issue for the Lakers. Holding onto them has been a completely different matter.
On New Year’s Day, the Lakers couldn’t bury their biggest problem from 2016, cobbling together a 12-point first-half advantage only for it to dissolve into a 123-114 loss to Toronto.
It was a battle between blistering backcourts as D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young tried to match the fire put out by the Raptors’ All-Star duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
While Russell (28 points, six 3-pointers) and Young (26 points, seven 3s) were unconscious from deep, Lowry (41 points) and DeRozan (31 points) did plenty of their work at the foul line, hitting 11 free throws apiece.
Young was the first player to find his hot hand, hitting a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter, which — when paired with some dirty work from Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson — put the Lakers ahead by six at the end of the period.
The Lakers (12-25) quickly doubled that lead to a dozen within the first two minutes of the second quarter.
But Lowry kept the Raptors (23-10) within range and DeRozan keyed a quarter-ending 12-4 run to put Toronto back up by one at the half.
After a back-and-forth third quarter left Los Angeles down by two, the Raptors quickly expanded that with nine unanswered points to begin the fourth.
That snowballed into a 22-5 burst for Toronto, which took a 19-point lead with 6:30 remaining.
Behind Russell’s 14 fourth-quarter points, the Lakers did chop their deficit down to five in the final minute, but Lowry was too much.
Toronto’s point guard scored 20 points in the fourth quarter alone to singlehandedly bury the Lakers.
“All five people have to be aware on defense,” Russell said of defending Lowry. “He’s coming off high ball screens and their bigs set good screens. We all have to be up and engaged.”
In addition to grabbing nine rebounds and splashing six 3-pointers, Lowry also got his teammates open looks to the tune of seven assists. With him leading the charge, Toronto shot a whopping 56.0 percent of its shots.
That sort of display overshadowed an otherwise solid game for the Lakers, who dominated the possession battle with big advantages in offensive rebounds (16-5) and turnovers forced (16-7).
Russell and Young made sure to cash in those extra opportunities, leaving Julius Randle happy with how his point guard took over late.
“I feel like (Russell) has been a little too hesitant with his shot, thinking a little too much,” said Randle, who had 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “I just told him to be aggressive and he just started being really aggressive and made a run and kept us in the game.”
Meanwhile, Young came one 3-pointer shy of tying his career-high from last month.
He has hit 35 triples in his last eight games — the most in such a span in franchise history, per Elias Sports.
“What I’m really proud of with Nick is (that) a lot of his shots are coming in the flow of the game,” head coach Luke Walton said. “… He is really doing his best to play within the team, and now we as a team know he’s a great scorer and shooter. So we’re going to look for him and try to get him shots.”
Ingram Drops the Hammer
In an otherwise quiet night for the second-overall pick, Brandon Ingram decided to rock the Raptors with his handling and elevation late in the third quarter.
First, he shook DeRozan with his crossover and then darted straight to the rim.
Seven-footer Jonas Valanciunas was there to greet him, but Ingram put his extensive wingspan to good use and threw down the highlight-reel jam.
Randle shot just 3-of-10 from the field but 9-of-10 on free throws. … Thomas Robinson (12 points, nine rebounds) and Tarik Black (nine points, nine rebounds) both neared double-doubles in only 31 combined minutes. … Valanciunas had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Toronto. … Staples Center was sold out by a crowd of 18,997.