Kuz Control: Spin Moves, Behind-the-Back Dimes and More
Kyle Kuzma really took it to another level in Tuesday’s win over the Boston Celtics.
Already shattering expectations as the 27th pick of the NBA Draft, Kuzma added his own flare to a historic rivalry, dropping 28 points to lead the Lakers to a 108-107 victory over the C’s.
Kuzma was a one-man combustion, particularly in a fourth quarter that saw him score 17 points — the most of any Laker in any frame this year.
Let’s take a look at how the rookie put together such a special night.
Kuzma’s first bucket of the night was on a move that the Celtics had no answer for the entire game.
By sprinting in transition, he was able to draw center Daniel Theis as his defender instead of the more mobile Marcus Morris (who was out of position). Kuzma schooled the rookie big with a spin move before floating a shot high off the glass.
He went back to it in the next quarter, this time against a smaller defender: Terry Rozier. He easily drove on the point guard and spun into the paint, where he put up a shot that caught Theis goaltending.
Finally, he went Todd Gurley-esque one more time in his sizzling fourth. Once again matched up against a center, Kuzma got a step on Al Horford before losing him for good with a spinning floater with less than five minutes left.
Kuzma stretched out the defense with his 3-point game, hitting 5-of-7 from deep.
Coach Luke Walton used this hot shooting to the team’s advantage, running pick-and-rolls to Kuzma’s side in order to force his man to decide whether to help defend the roll and potentially give up an open 3.
Most of Kuzma’s work came on spot-up attempts, but the Lakers also ran some really nice action for him in the second quarter.
He and Larry Nance Jr. set a decoy double screen for Jordan Clarkson, and Alex Caruso sold it with a fake pass. Then Kuzma came off a screen from Nance and splashed his first triple of the night.
The interesting part about Kuzma’s passing is that his assists tend to be the kind that blow up social media.
He’s only averaging 1.9 per game (though that has been trending upward over the past month), yet his ability to score opens up opportunities to hit his teammates for highlight dimes.
“It’s a fine line with Kuz, because we need his scoring and we need his gunslinger mentality,” Walton said. “But with that comes some bad shots. So we show him all of his shots and we talk about good ones versus bad ones.
“And we talk about — what I thought he did a really nice job of this tonight — being a playmaker when he gets going. And that really demoralizes a defense when he drives and they double him and he throws a pass to Larry for a dunk. That’s really wining basketball right there.”
Walton undersold Kuzma’s passing to Nance. Not only did he get Larry a dunk, he did so by dishing behind his back — twice.
On both plays, Kuzma beat his own man on the drive, forcing Theis to step up and protect the rim. Kuzma made the right read (to Nance) on each pass, and his flashy facilitation also served to keep Theis worried about a layup attempt until the final split second.
When You Need a Bucket
In their previous game, the Lakers ran a gorgeous set play that ended with Nance throwing down an alley-oop slam.
But the Celtics — owners of the league’s No. 1 defense and a perpetually prepared coaching staff — were ready for it and denied Nance’s path to the hoop.
Caruso then audibled into a pick-and-roll, and Kuzma successfully drew the switch onto a much smaller Kyrie Irving.
From there, he hit Irving with a one-dribble pull-up, bailing the Lakers out of a tough situation with his ability to create offense.
Value of a tough shotmaker: Lakers run this same play, but it gets snuffed out by a well-coached Celtics defense.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) January 24, 2018
Caruso audibles into a pick-and-roll, Kuzma gets the switch and buries a one-dribble pull-up over Kyrie. pic.twitter.com/yOnCfwxpWh
Kuzma and Irving locked in on one another with the game on the line, as the Celtics’ all-star scored a dozen fourth-quarter points to Kuzma’s 17.
“We were talking a little bit,” said Kuzma, who shot 6-of-7 in the fourth. “He’s a great competitor. I like playing guys like that. It was good chirping going on.”
For as ruthless as Irving was with his step-back jumper and one-of-a-kind handles, Kuzma was the one who left with the win — and much of that had to do with his final score of the night.
Up by just two with two minutes left, Josh Hart missed a 3-pointer, but Kuzma had snuck in and grabbed the rebound over point guard Marcus Smart.
Kuzma (who was covered by Smart in the first place because his transition hustle left his original defender calling for a switch) snagged the board and immediately put it in, giving the Lakers the cushion they needed to survive down the stretch against their Eastern Conference-leading rivals.