After a comeback victory last night that involved some really scrappy play on both ends by the Lakers, fans are breathing a little more easy as the team begins the journey towards the playoffs.
Last night’s second half play had some serious effort outside of scoring that was required for the Lakers to finally breakthrough. The Rockets were switching all assignments which didn’t allow the Lakers to create any advantage situations with their play-making and passing. When team’s switch everything it almost always comes down to excellent isolation play in order for offenses to succeed.
While Lebron, Ingram, and the rest of the Lakers willed their way on the offensive end there was a tremendous display of defense and effort on the second half by Reggie Bullock and Brandon Ingram that should absolutely be applauded. More interestingly, Ingram and Bullock seem to be really on cue with covering for each other on their defensive rotations already which is mind boggling considering that this is just Bullock’s third game with the Lakers.
First Half Assignments
In the first quarter when Bullock and Ingram were on the court, Luke specifically had Ingram on Paul and Bullock on Harden. The Rockets used different screening assignments for both players in order to get them looks.
On the play below the Rockets recognized the switches by Kuzma and Harden attacked him to get to the rim like below
For the most part, Bullock and Ingram getting routinely screened is not only what Houston typically does on the offensive end, but it is also a testament to how good they are as defenders.
The reason we know this is because as soon as Luke substituted BOTH Ingram and Bullock out in the first quarter, the Rockets stopped sending screens for Harden and he was routinely beating his defender.
After substituting Bullock back in for the Lebron in the second quarter. The Kinston duo went back to doing their defensive clamping when they weren’t being screened.
Bullock was especially good at attacking Harden’s dribble when it became apparent he was trying to dribble himself in a rhythm shot. The disruption from Bullock resulted in turnovers like this one
Even in an out of bounds set Bullock showed almost no lapse in his defensive attention and completely shadowed Harden on this attempt below
Second Half Assignments
In the second half Harden stopped waiting out possessions for long threes in isolation situations with Bullock and immediately attacked the rim early in the shot clock.
Paul routinely took a screen as the Lakers switched McGee every time resulting in Paul going on a scoring streak by himself.
When the Lakers finally stopped switching their on ball assignments, Luke played Hart for McGee and tasked him with defending Faried. This allowed both Bullock and Ingram to not have to switch as Hart made sure to leave enough room for Ingram and Bullock to get through the screens without letting Faried slip them.
On top of that, Ingram was smartly playing the zone help defense looks that he does really well. On this play he shows a zone help look behind Bullock in case Harden is thinking about blowing by him. The result is a heavily contested step back three.
In the second half, Luke staggered substitutions between Bullock and Ingram. In the third quarter he gave Bullock about a minute of rest before having him substitute for Ingram to keep the defensive intensity up.
The 4th Quarter
For anyone watching the game last night, it was obvious that Lebron was just not going to chase down the corner three regardless of whether his assignment was weak or strong side. That means it was usually Hart or Ingram chasing down the corner three and forcing an extra pass.
We see that on this play where Lebron leaves Tucker wide open in the corner so Hart runs to cover while Ingram recovers from Paul to lightly contest Green’s three point attempt. Lebron was also nowhere near helping grab the rebound.
That means DESPITE Lebron “floating” on this play, the other Lakers hustled their butts off to contest and finish the play. The upside is that as soon as Lebron gets the outlet, he is able to attack the rim on the other end and score.
Again the tandem of Ingram continued to do damage to Harden and Paul’s sets. Ingram battled through the Capela screen on the play below and stayed with Paul which resulted in a turnover.
On the VERY NEXT defensive possession, Bullock disrupts Harden’s dribble and forces the Rockets to call a timeout.
After the gritty win by the Lakers against the dynamic Rockets, much of the defensive credit should go to Ingram, Bullock, and Luke Walton. Bullock and Ingram were so good last night with their on ball and help assignments that it forced the Rockets to have to screen almost every time.
Luke recognizing that he needed to always have one or the other on the floor at all times in the second half provided just enough defense to win the game.
Ultimately if and when Lonzo is able to return to the lineup, the Lakers are going to be able to field a defensive nightmare rotation of Ball, Bullock, and Ingram and that should absolutely be a concern to every team on the schedule.