Lakers Stomp Clippers in Season Finale
In a season that will be remembered for the strides made by the Lakers’ young players, the last chapter was written without three of those key pieces.
With Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball all injured, the Lakers followed a different member of that group — one who had his brightest moment at the end of a year when he was all about doing whatever the team needed.
This time the situation required that Josh Hart be a scorer and he did just that, igniting for a career-high 30 points to lead the Lakers to a 115-100 season-ending victory over the LA Clippers.
“You don’t always get a lot of opportunities, but when they come you’ve got to be ready,” coach Luke Walton said. “And Josh was ready all season long, including this last stretch. It should motivate him to really work this offseason.”
Hart scorched the Clippers from beyond the arc, dropping seven 3-pointers on just nine attempts. He was hitting his triples in every which way, including on spot-ups, set plays and by taking defenders off the dribble.
After sinking a trey during his 14-point third quarter, Hart, an avid gamer, broke out a “Fortnite”-inspired bandage celebration.
“I was in the moment,” Hart laughed. “A lot of people call me ‘Mr. Fortnite,’ so…”
When you've scored your career-high and the third quarter hasn't even ended pic.twitter.com/iNWhAugToC— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 12, 2018
Hart scored 20-plus points in each of the Lakers’ final four games of the season, becoming just the fourth rookie to record such a streak this season, joining Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell and Josh Jackson.
But according to Hart himself, his success stemmed from the absence of one of those guys on that list.
“I told y’all cause Kuz wasn’t in the game!” Hart joked. “Kuz wants to jack (up shots) all the time!”
One person who wasn’t chucking was the league’s most inspirational player: Andre Ingram.
The night before, the 32-year-old Ingram made his long-awaited NBA debut after a decade of playing in the G League. He seized his moment by scoring 19 points, and had something different in store for his second game.
This time, Ingram kept the ball movement flowing by handing out a game-high six assists, while taking only nine shots for himself and making two.
“To think I wasn’t even going to be here,” Ingram said. “To think I was going to be on a plane home to Virginia. Instead to be here living out a dream. It was amazing. … To cap it off with a win, to have the special night last night — what more could I ask for?”
A couple of his dimes went to G League teammate Gary Payton II, who spent most of the season on a two-way contract with the South Bay Lakers.
Payton’s athleticism was on full display, as he dropped a career-best 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting. He was constantly attacking the rim and the glass, finishing with 12 rebounds including a pair of put-back baskets.
“That’s how aggressive you have to play,” Walton said. “(He’s) a dynamic guard. On both ends of the floor, he was making plays on defense and getting in the paint. … That’s how he has to play every night, in that kind of attack mode.”
Payton’s big night helped the Lakers end an 11-game losing streak on the Clippers’ home floor.
With this victory, the purple and gold concluded the season with a 35-47 record, making for a nine-win improvement from last year.
“Even at the end of the year when we were eliminated from playoff contention, nobody went off on their own and said, ‘All right, it’s time for me to get mine,’” Hart said. “Every game of this 82-game season we played hard, we competed and we played for each other.”
Julius Randle played in all 82 games of the season for the first time in his career. … Alex Caruso had a career-high 15 points, including three triples. … The Clippers had a massive advantage in paint scoring (64-38) and were led by Tobias Harris (23 points). … A crowd of 19,068 sold out STAPLES Center.