For most of three quarters on Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers appeared to have hit a new low. They trailed the hapless Detroit Pistons. LeBron James was ejected, and with a likely suspension coming, the Lakers weren’t exactly well-positioned to turn things around. A three-game losing streak was in danger of spiraling into something much worse. With 27.4 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Pistons guard Frank Jackson made a layup to push the Detroit lead up to 17 points. The Lakers were headed toward yet another “worst loss of the season.”
And then Russell Westbrook made a layup of his own. The Lakers strung together a couple of stops and buckets of their own. Westbrook scored again. And again. And again. And again. In the first six minutes and change of the fourth quarter, Westbrook gave the Lakers 11 points. The athleticism that has made him so special throughout his career was on full display.
What’s more, he scored in the ways that the Lakers will need him to score if they hope to compete for a championship. While his pick-and-roll and isolation work trimmed the lead, the last push to tie it came with Westbrook as a cutter. With the Lakers trailing by four, Westbrook’s man left him alone to help against Davis. Davis hit him right under the basket for his easiest points of the night. Several plays later, he scored in the exact same way to knot the game up at 109.
Westbrook sparked the comeback. Davis finished it. He scored 10 points in the last five minutes of the game, but it was his defense that truly shined. On one key possession, he blocked No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham twice.
When Detroit needed a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, a Davis interception effectively sealed the game.
“Tonight was a must win for us, you know, with Bron going out,” Westbrook said after the game. “We gotta find ways to win games, especially on the road, and tonight was a hell of a win for all us.” If there’s such a thing as a must-win game in November, Westbrook might be right about this being one of them. The season isn’t even a quarter over and the Lakers have already sacrificed quite a bit of ground in the standings. They trail the top-seeded Golden State Warriors by six games. The team that beat them last postseason, the Phoenix Suns, has now won 11 games in a row. Threats like the Nuggets and Clippers, who are only going to get healthier as the season progresses, are ahead of them right now.
The Lakers saw firsthand last season how disappointing early-season losses could derail their season. They surely want no part of another play-in appearance. Stacking wins is a necessity if they want to avoid it, but so are all of the things that led to Sunday’s comeback.
Westbrook, struggling to function in a less ball-dominant role all season, needs to create points without the ball in his hands. Davis, still adjusting to predominantly playing center, hasn’t been himself defensively this season as the Lakers entered the Pistons game ranked 21st on that end of the floor. They need him making the sort of plays he made down the stretch.
They need the sort of energy that powered this comeback. The Lakers looked listless for more than a half on Sunday as the younger, spryer Pistons took control of a game the Lakers badly needed. Whether it was James’ ejection, the absence of Detroit’s primary rim-protector or merely the realization that they could not afford another backbreaking loss so early in the season, something woke the Lakers up and led to this comeback. Hopefully it’s something that can sustain through the rest of this road trip and beyond.