The weren’t giving anything up for free against the .
Quite literally, actually. It took the Pistons almost three and a half quarters to shoot their first free throw.
It was true in the figurative sense too. The Lakers actually play defense now. They fought and scrapped and ran back in transition, delighting their head coach who has been looking for this for more than a year. And on Tuesday night they kept it going for an entire game.
The Lakers beat the Pistons 113-93 at , leading comfortably most of the night against a Detroit team playing its third game in four nights on the West Coast.
The Pistons (5-3) opened the trip with impressive wins over the Clippers and Warriors, but the Lakers (3-4) managed to hold their opponent under 100 points for the third time in four games, and in back-to-back for the first time. The Lakers had seven players score in double figures, led again by backups Julius Randle (17 points) and Kyle Kuzma (16).
“It all starts with effort and caring about wanting to get better,” coach said. “You have to learn to really embrace and enjoy how hard it is to play like that.”
finished with 13 points on six-of-13 shooting with six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. Outside of his game against Phoenix, in which he scored 29 points and nearly notched a triple-double, Walton said this was Ball’s best game.
“The whole team fed off the way he was playing,” Walton said.
Brandon Ingram finished with 13 points on six-of-12 shooting with five rebounds, six assists, four steals, a blocked shot and five turnovers. Defensively, Ingram showed he is beginning to understand how to use his length.
“Getting in passing lanes today, of course a couple lazy passes, just being able to get my hands on deflections a little bit and getting some steals,” Ingram said. “That definitely led to some of our fast-break points.”
The Lakers outscored the Pistons 17-5 in fast-break points, a testament to their transition defense.
It had been a problem early. In the first halves of their first three games, the Lakers gave up 53, 73 and 68 points. Through that Walton continued the mantra he repeated last season: He said they would improve, eventually. He said he wouldn’t give up on that.
It didn’t happen last season. The Lakers finished as the worst defensive team in the . They have been among the worst for four years, predating Walton’s hiring.
“We brought some guys in that are more focused defensively,” forward Larry Nance Jr. said, and began by referencing guard .
“Brook [Lopez] is a really good rim protector and he’s so vocal out there for us. Even a guy like Brew . He wasn’t with us all last year, but he’s just all-out effort all the time. That’s all defense is, just effort and energy.”
The Lakers also taught returning players like Ingram and Jordan Clarkson how to be better defenders. They even got more than they expected from their rookie point guard. Ball’s interest in defense is unusual for a player drafted so high, Walton said.
“When I first got here, even in practice, if somebody’s scoring on us, we used to drop our head,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We tried to change that mentality where even if they score, let’s get it on the next one. Come down and score and get back. Just take pride in playing defense.”
The payoff is beginning to show.
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