A feisty, spirited Lakers team had been in control seemingly all night — this was the kind of game the Lakers needed to start a stretch without LeBron James. The last time Sacramento had led there was 4:17 left in the second quarter. The Kings want to play fast, but for the LeBron-less Lakers that is the best thing. Los Angeles led by 15 in the fourth and seemed to show that the Christmas Day fourth quarter against Golden State was not a fluke.
But these feisty Kings do not die.
Sacramento went on a run to tie the game, and while Los Angeles crawled back ahead, when Brandon Ingram missed a free throw with 4.3 seconds left, the Kings were down two with a chance to win it. Out of a timeout, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger drew this play up for Bogdan Bogdanovic:
There were a couple of things to love about this play design. First, a lot of coaches go with the guy who is the big name or has earned the shot over the course of a season, which would have been Buddy Hield for the Kings. Except, Hield was off his game Thursday (2-of-8, 0-of-2 from three), so Joerger turned to the hot hand in Bogdanovic, who already had nine fourth-quarter points.
Second, Bogdanovic popped out off a Willie Cauley-Stein screen and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope switched it, putting Tyson Chandler on Bogdanovic. Sure, Chandler is a 7-footer and an active defender, but he doesn’t like to be in the rarefied air beyond the arc. That got Bogdanovic enough room to get off a clean look. (Would things have been different if KCP fought through the screen?)
It was an improbable win in an improbable season for Sacramento. And an improbable run for Bogdanovic. Who would have thought Bogdanovic would be the best player in that draft night trade with Phoenix that sent Marquese Chriss to the Suns?
For the Lakers, that shot was a punch to the gut.
Kyle Kuzma had 33 points, while Lonzo Ball outplayed rival De'Aaron Fox with 20 points and 12 assists. Brandon Ingram scored 22 points on 19 shots, getting most of his chances in pick-and-rolls or isolations and showing that he is okay but not elite in those situations. The Lakers still struggle to find ways to use Ingram efficiently.
It doesn’t get easier for L.A. The Lakers come home to face the Clippers (Friday night on a back-to-back), followed by Kings again Sunday, then the Thunder. There are no nights off in the West.