Kyle Kuzma dribbles against the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 22, 2017.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Lakers Fall Shy of Comeback as Kuzma, Ball Heat Up at Golden State

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

The Lakers have battled the Warriors to the bitter end three times this season. Unfortunately for the purple and gold, they haven’t been able to convert strong efforts into actual wins.

In Oakland on Friday night, the Lakers trailed by as many as 23 points before mounting a roaring comeback that briefly gave them the lead in the fourth quarter. But defensive miscues cost them a shot at victory, falling 113-106 to Golden State.

Nonetheless, Lakers coach Luke Walton liked the way the Lakers refused to fold, saying that he saw many other teams do so on the Warriors’ home floor back when he was a Golden State assistant.

“I love our group of guys,” Walton said. “The way they compete night in and night out, competing against some really good teams lately, is really impressive.”

The comeback was spearheaded by Kyle Kuzma. When the Warriors (26-6) took their biggest lead of the night, Lonzo Ball said that Kuzma told him, “I’m about to start going.”

Kuzma delivered on his promise, racking up 27 points and 14 rebounds while only sitting five minutes the entire night.

It was another game in which Kuzma broke out his entire offensive arsenal, including everything from a hook shot and a reverse layup to a step-back 3-pointer and a just-plain-silly, over-the-shoulder shot in transition over the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green.

Kuzma scored 19 points in the second half alone. He shot 9-of-15 from the field and sunk three 3-pointers, becoming the first rookie Laker with three straight 25-point games since the NBA logo himself: Jerry West.

And those past three games have been against elite opponents with stout defenses: the Warriors (twice) and Houston Rockets.

“I’m just getting more and more confident,” Kuzma said. “I feel like every shot I take I can make. … I like playing big games. The last three games have been pretty big.”

Walton said that Kuzma has taken full advantage of his opportunity to start. In particular, the coach is pleased by the 27th-overall pick’s disciplined shot selection and occasional playmaking for teammates.

“He’s just a great competitor, and I think that’s why he’s had these big nights,” Walton said.

For as hot as Kuzma was, even he needed some help to rally the Lakers (11-19) back from such a big deficit.

Ball was an important cog, dropping 24 points in his second-highest scoring performance of the year.

Golden State dared Ball to shoot — going under on screens and generally giving him plenty of airspace — and the 20-year-old made them pay by hitting 5-of-6 from 3-point range.

It was his best display from beyond the arc this year, and Ball has now shot 47.1 percent from deep over his last five games.

Julius Randle — who hadn’t hit a triple in three weeks — also stretched out his range, hitting a pair of 3-pointers himself.

It was a strong bounce-back game from Randle, who only played eight minutes in Wednesday’s win over Houston.

He packed a lot of production into this contest, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds (five offensive) and two steals in 24 minutes against the Warriors.

Randle was particularly crucial in a 17-4 run to start the quarter, scoring seven points on a tip-in, free throws and 3-pointer. The burst momentarily gave the Lakers a 91-89 lead with 7:26 left.

It was mostly close from there, as the Lakers trailed by two with three minutes remaining, but then Golden State closed it out.

The Warriors scored the game’s next six points, as defensive miscommunications sunk the Lakers’ hopes of completing the comeback.

Notes
Kevin Durant led all players with 33 points and four blocks. … The Lakers hit 11 3-pointers to Golden State’s seven. … The Warriors had 13 blocks. … Jordan Bell (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Draymond Green (13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) were key for Golden State. … A sold-out crowd of 19,596 packed Oracle Arena.

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