After only 17 minutes of basketball, the Lakers were staring down the barrel of a 27-point deficit. Their 3-point shooting was in a full drought, and league scoring leader Luka Doncic was dissecting their defense.
Enter Jarred Vanderbilt.
Beloved across the league for his high-motor style of play, Vanderbilt was a one-man renewable energy source for the Lakers, who incredibly surged back for their biggest comeback since 2002 with a 111-108 win in Dallas.
“His activity,” Anthony Davis highlighted of Vanderbilt. “You can put him 1-5 defensively. He knows how to play when guys try to leave him.”
Vanderbilt was instrumental in myriad ways for the Lakers, but giving Doncic fits was perhaps the most challenging of his assignments. Vanderbilt — long-armed, big-bodied, and hyper-athletic — held Doncic (26 points) to 1-of-5 shooting in their matchups.
Sometimes he even prevented the four-time All-Star from even attempting a shot, like he did when he forced a turnover by Doncic with 15 seconds left and Dallas attempting to tie the game.
“That’s a tall task to try to manage that matchup,” head coach Darvin Ham said. “As skilled as Luka (is), one of the top five players in our league easily, hands down. (Vanderbilt) was up to the challenge. Just try to make it as difficult as possible for him.”
And he was impactful on the other side of the floor as well, finishing the game with 15 points, 17 rebounds and four steals. Eight of his boards were on the offensive end, as his remarkable willpower earned the Lakers much-needed extra possessions in their quest to become the first team this season (out of 139 who tried) to rally from 27 points or more.
“We’re a deep team,” Vanderbilt said. “We can win in a variety of ways. Like tonight we didn’t make no shots. … We kept playing, we kept fighting. We killed them on the glass and in transition.”
And while Vanderbilt was certainly at the center of it all, it helps to be flanked by two legends of the game in Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
Though the Lakers’ 3-point shooting (6-for-34) never resuscitated, AD and LeBron operated a demolition crew down low, which resulted in a 62-32 advantage in points in the paint.
Davis was everywhere for the Lakers, racking up 30 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He dominated his offensive matchup against Dwight Powell, using his length and ability to score at odd angles to rack up his scoring total.
Ham called Davis “emotionally, spiritually involved in the game” and even compared him to one of the NBA’s greatest of all-time.
“Wilt Davis was on full display today,” he said.
Meanwhile, James — despite briefly going down with an ankle injury that Ham later described as “good” — played the role of closer. The King finished with 26 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, plus eight rebounds.
Like Davis, he was a monster down low. The Mavericks tried several defenders on James, but he consistently beat them via size and strength both off the dribble and out of the post.
Dennis Schröder added 16 points and eight assists for the Lakers, who are now 4-1 since trading for Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell (out with an ankle sprain), Mo Bamba and Davon Reed.
Now tied for 11th in the Western Conference standings, the Lakers will next travel to Memphis for a meeting with the second-seeded Grizzlies on Tuesday.