The Lakers have suffered another disappointing defeat for the LeBron era after a confident Raptors outfit scorched them 121-107 at Staples Center on Monday, resulting in the biggest deficit in franchise history in the opening quarter. Toronto started with confidence, thanks to a 26-foot three point jumper from Danny Green and an 18-foot jumper from Serge Ibaka, both of them assisted by Kyle Lowry. A driving layup from Kyle Kuzma might have been the first play of the game, but there was no doubt the visitors were out to win in in these crucial opening minutes.
A 4-foot two point miss from LeBron gave the Raptors additional confidence, leading to a near replica of their opening pair of pointscoring sequences – a 26-foot three-pointer from Green, and then a 20-foot jumper from Ibaka, both assisted once again by Lowry. This was consolidation a mere three minutes into the game, and a missed tip shot from Javale McGree just made things worse for the Lakers, paving the way for Ibaka to match Green with a 27-foot three point jumper of his own.
During these early minutes Brandon Ingram was arguably the best asset for Los Angeles, bringing the scoreline back to 10-6 with a Lonzo Ball assist, while a pair of free throws from LeBron at the eight minute marked helped the Lakers regain a bit of pride. Still, five consecutive points from OG Anunoby – assisted yet again by the tireless Lowry – saw the Raptors score to 20-8, handing the Lakers one of their biggest deficits of the 2018-2019 season so far.
It got bigger too, with a 3-foot layup and then a free throw from Ibaka bringing the scoreline to 25-8, with only a layup from Ball providing a brief interlude before a flurry of further Toronto points, including Lowry getting a 26-foot three-point jumper of his own, with Green assisting for a nice bit of symmetry. Meanwhile, a bad pass from Rondo and a lost ball turnover from McGee saw the Lakers struggle more than at any point this season, paving the way for four more points from Ibaka – a dunk and two free throws – that saw the scoreline rocket up to 36-10.
Yet that wasn’t the end of it, with Lowry and Fred VanFleet bringing the scoreline to 42-14 and completely overshadowing a pair of last-minute efforts from Rondo. While the last-minute absence of Kawhi Leonard might have been a bit of an anticlimax, then, the first quarter had almost been more dramatic for his absence, paving the way for an incredible grudge match next time these two teams take each other on and the LA local takes the court against his city’s home team.
The Raptors started the second quarter right where they left off, with a driving layup and dunk from Delon Wright, and a dunk from Jonas Valanciunas, bringing them to a whopping 48-17 scoreline, in what has to be the lowest moment of the Lakers’ season so far. Los Angeles had to come back, and come back quick, yet Rondo followed a driving layup with a missed two pointer, while Josh Hart botched a 26-foot three point jumper, and Ivica Zubac mistimed a tip shot, a couple of minutes later.
Although it was only three minutes into the second quarter, this was probably the turning point of the game for Los Angeles – the point where they needed to accelerate in order to really match the Raptors’ momentum. Instead, the teams just went point for point, with LeBron contributing a driving floating jump shot off a Rondo assist, followed by a free throw, but not before Valanciunas had clocked up two more points of his own. To make matters worse, LeBron went on to miss a simple 4-foot two-pointer, with McGee making a loose ball foul a minute later.
Things started to level out from here, with McGee, Wright, Ingram and Valnciunas all getting points, and LeBron making a two point shot at the six minute mark for good measure. Yet the Lakers needed more than play-for-play – they needed a sustained period of dominance to match the massive avalanche of points that Toronto had accumulated in the opening quarter. A two-pointer for Ball followed by four successive points for McGee – with an assist from LeBron – wasn’t enough, especially once Lowry started to assert himself again, contributing two free throws and a driving layup assisted by Pascal Siskam, before assisting Siskam for his own layup in turn.
Worse still, the Raptors consolidated further as the second quarter drew to a close, regaining a lead of 71-49. To have any chance of winning, the Lakers needed to come back big over the next few minutes, and yet it turned out to be the first quarter all over again, as Green got things rolling with a 27-foot three point jumper off another sublime assist from Lowry. Even two successive assists from LeBron couldn’t make up for that commitment, and when Lowry responded to a 14-foot two-point shot from LeBron with a 3-foot driving floating jump shot of his own, it was hard not to feel that Toronto had the game in the bag.
At the six minute mark, Toronto were still emphatically in front at 89-65, and with Kuzma missing a 27-foot three point jumper, Ingram getting a shooting foul, and then Kuzma making a defensive goaltending violation, the writing was already on the wall. Sure, Kuzma might have followed it with a layup off a Lebron assist, but it only took seventeen seconds for Lowry to respond with a layup of his own off an Ibaka assist, cementing him as MVP of the game and a terrific guiding force in Leonard’s absence.
Two successive three-pointers from LeBron offered a brief respite for the Lakers, and were sufficiently disheveling for the Raptors to force a Full Timeout after LeBron had assisted Ingram with a 16-foot two-pointer in turn. Still, they should have come earlier in the game, since even a spectacular alley oop layup from Ingram was contained, as calmly as ever, by Lowry, this time by way of the 27-foot three pointer that, from Green’s opening points, had felt like the Raptors’ main mode of attack.
The quarter ended with a personal foul and then a free throw from LeBron, as the Raptors hit a century with a scoreline of 101-80, leaving the Lakers desperate for a final surge that was as surprising and dominating as Toronto’s opening quarter had been. Yet the fourth quarter started with four misses – a pullup jump shot from Stephenson, a driving layup from Stephenson, a three point pullup from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and then a three-point juimper from Stephenson.
It felt almost inevitable, then, when Valanciunas scored the first points with a two-point shot off a Norman Powell assist, paving the way for a five minute stretch in which the Lakers had their fair share of highlights – including a 28-foot three pointer from Rondo – but were never able to get the upper hand, let alone take control of the game in the drastic manner that was required for them to come away with a clutch win.
Four free throws from Valanciunas ushered the game into its final six minutes, yet even a series of Toronto fouls and errors – a loose ball foul from Valanciunas, an offensive foul from Powell, a bad pass from Powell – couldn’t get the Lakers any significant momentum, despite a spectacular pair of three point jumpers from Ball, both of them assisted by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. By the time Danny Green entered the game for CJ Miles, and scored yet another three point jumper, the game was won, with an assist from Lowry for a Siskam layup, and then a 3-foot jump bank shot from Lowry, closing the match in the most poetic and appropriate way.
It’s back to the drawing board, then, for the Lakers – and especially LeBron, who put in arguably his most underwhelming performance of the 2018-2019 season so far, and will be looking to make a big comeback when he takes on the Timberwolves in a couple of days. Meanwhile, this has been a milestone game for the Raptors – an indication of what they can do even without Leonard, and a testament to the brilliance of Lowry in particular, so they’re going to be keen to mobilise that momentum when they take on the Jazz, Kings and Knicks over the coming days.