Nick Young posed with his hand in the air before the ball even fell through the hoop. Then he started to trot away as his three-pointer descended and sealed a Lakers win, 123-116, over the previously undefeated Atlanta Hawks.
“I knew it was going in before it left my hands,” Young said.
In the second half, the Lakers’ shots fell, they fouled less and they stopped turning over the ball. In the second half, the Lakers did what they couldn’t do before during their four-game, six-day road trip.
“I think it’s just good for the guys,” Coach Luke Walton said. “They’ve been giving a hell of an effort all year. Training camp, preseason. When you can hear the joy in their voice and them having fun after they win instead of the quiet locker room when they lose, it’s nice and I think it makes it easier to continue to want to work hard, when you know that feeling’s at the end of the tunnel.”
It was Walton’s first official road win as a head coach and the Lakers’ first road victory this season. D’Angelo Russell led the team with 23 points, eight assists and four rebounds. He also had a career-high three blocks. The Lakers overcame 31 points from Dwight Howard, who faced rookie Ivica Zubac in his first NBA start. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 26.
Howard also collected 11 rebounds and was instrumental in getting the Lakers into foul trouble early in the game. At halftime, Zubac already had four personal fouls and center Tarik Black had three. The Lakers altogether had 14 in the first 24 minutes.
The Lakers also had 10 turnovers in the first half and made only one of 10 three-point attempts. All those numbers continued trends from the rest of a trip that spanned three time zones.
Despite that, and even though the Lakers were in the second night of a back-to-back, Walton said he saw his team playing with more focus than he’d seen from them before.
“It wasn’t about adjustments in the second half,” Walton said. “It was more about keeping that energy and that focus level where it was and finally getting some stops to go along with it.”
They made eight of 12 three-point shots in the second half. They committed 11 fouls. They only turned the ball over five times.
Russell found a groove better than he has all year. In the third quarter alone, he had nine points and four assists with two blocked shots. Walton said that was exactly how he envisions Russell playing point guard, controlling the game through more than scoring.
“Just made it happen,” Russell said. “Guys were making shots. Tried to do a good job of keeping everybody balanced, getting the ball to guys who were hot. Open guys. They made it easier for me.”
He added three assists in the fourth quarter, including one on Young’s three with 17.9 seconds remaining.
Then in the fourth quarter, Lou Williams took over. The Georgia native scored 16 fourth-quarter points, including a contested three that barely beat the shot clock.
The crowd that sounded split evenly between Lakers and Hawks fans, roared.
“This is my [house,]” Williams yelled to Russell.
The basket gave the Lakers a four-point lead.
“Some of the shots Lou hit, he just bailed us out on, honestly,” Walton said.
Said Williams: “The fourth quarter is normally my best quarter of my career. So I’ll just go out there and try to close games.”
After the game, Williams rushed out to meet his children, whom he hasn’t seen in three weeks. Georgia is home for him, but in many ways it felt like home for the Lakers. The road hadn’t been kind to these Lakers — they lost their three previous games in Utah, Oklahoma City and Indiana. But they finished the trip as their season began. With a win.