(David Sherman/Getty Images)
Lakers Step Up in LeBron's Absence, Rout Defending Champs on Christmas Night
On a Christmas night billed as LeBron James vs. Golden State — a rematch of the last four NBA Finals — what stood out most was how the other Lakers rose to the occasion when injury forced James out of the game.
Rather than fold against the back-to-back NBA champions, the Lakers bunkered down, blowing out the Warriors in front of a nationally-televised audience, 127-101.
“Obviously we hope he’s OK, but we’ve got a lot of good players,” Josh Hart said. “… If he’s down, we’re ready to step up. None of us are afraid of the spotlight.”
It wasn’t easy, as James — who had 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in only 21 minutes — left the game due to a groin strain nearly halfway through the third quarter.
At that point the Lakers led by 14, but Golden State smelled blood and went on a rampage, pulling back within two in only five minutes.
Yet L.A. answered that run with one of its own. From that point forward, the purple and gold outscored their hosts, 49-26, for their first win in the Warriors’ house since 2012.
The Lakers led by as many as 31 points thanks to double-double efforts from Ivica Zubac (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (15 points, 10 assists).
“Rondo was gigantic at controlling the pace, getting to his spots — either for scoring from his layup package or finding guys out there,” said LeBron, who will undergo an MRI on Wednesday. “And once again, Big Zu was huge for us on both sides of the ball.”
Zubac put in work down low, attacking the offensive glass for three put-backs, while also finding a nice chemistry off James’ and Rondo’s playmaking.
The big man finished the night with only one miss on 10 shot attempts.
Great possessions from the LeBron-Zubac pick-and-roll, which accounted for all of the Lakers' last three buckets of the first half. pic.twitter.com/WmyWcek1Ef— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) December 26, 2018
Meanwhile, Rondo set the table for his teammates to feast, directing the offense without a single turnover in 23 minutes.
The 13-year veteran also shredded Golden State’s switching defense by scoring four times on isolation drives to the basket. With LeBron out, he took over as the team’s leader, providing 13 of his points post-injury.
Thanks to Rondo lighting the way, the Lakers now have 23 wins on Christmas Day — the most of any franchise.
Rajon Rondo gave the Warriors' switching defense fits by finding the matchups he wanted and attacking in isolation. pic.twitter.com/Iso8jdFxIY— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) December 26, 2018
It was an impressive all-around effort, as seven Lakers scored in double figures, including Kyle Kuzma — who led his team with 19 points. Brandon Ingram (14), Josh Hart (12) and Lance Stephenson (11) also crossed the threshold.
Plus, the Lakers’ defense did its job, holding Golden State to 40.9 percent shooting from the field, including just 25.0 percent on 3-pointers.
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant both entered the game among the league’s top three scorers, but, along with fellow all-stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, were held to 14-of-44 shooting on the night.
“That was probably our most complete game of the season,” coach Luke Walton said. “A lot of good moments to build off from that game.”
Golden State was led by Andre Iguodala’s 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting. … The Lakers shot 55.3 percent from the field and held a 58-46 scoring advantage in the paint. … James played in his 13th consecutive Christmas Day game.