SAN FRANCISCO — Up until Saturday, coach Darvin Ham had been hesitant to use the Lakers’ main starting lineup from last season’s playoff run.
But in the most precarious moments of the Lakers’ 145-144 double overtime win over the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center, Ham leaned on the lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Jarred Vanderbilt, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
And in each moment, the quintet delivered.
A 12-5 run in the final 1 minute, 55 seconds of the second quarter gave the Lakers a 68-63 halftime lead. Scoring four unanswered points in 1 1/2 minutes before Davis briefly exited the game because of hip spasms, halted the Warriors’ momentum midway through the third after Golden State opened the quarter with a 25-5 run.
And when it was crunch time, Ham played the lineup of Russell-Reaves-Vanderbilt-James-Davis for all but five seconds of the game’s final 15 minutes and 36 seconds (fourth quarter and both overtimes), with the group leading the Lakers to a victory to open their road trip.
“The group we had out there has some familiarity with each other,” Russell said. “So it didn’t feel like we were in limbo at any point in the game. We kinda had an idea. It was fun. It just felt like it was a playoff environment out there and high-level was required.”
Most of that familiarity stems from last season.
The lineup of Russell-Reaves-Vanderbilt-James-Davis played just 11 minutes this season before Saturday. They easily eclipsed that mark against the Warriors, playing 19 minutes on Saturday.
The Lakers outscored the Warriors by 14 in those minutes the aforementioned group was on the floor together.
“We just have chemistry and we have a lot of minutes logged together so we know what we want to do,” James said. “It’s a team that was in the Western Conference finals last year and made some plays in the second round and things of that nature so, with myself, AR, Vando, D-Lo and AD, we just, we know where everybody is at and we work well together.”
Spectacular play from James and Davis, as well as key late-game shotmaking from Russell, helped the Lakers get across the finish line.
But that group was especially effective against the Warriors because of the play from Vanderbilt, who had an individual plus/minus of plus-30 in a career-high 41 minutes. His defensive tenacity changed the game.
“You can see the impact he’s having each and every game,” Ham said. “Doing all the dirty work, taking the toughest matchups. He got back healthy. But it was a matter of time before he had to get back into game shape. He’s there now. And his relentless, his ability to gauge screens both on and off the ball, the way he gets into passing lanes, deflections, steals. He’s been aggressive to the rim, which is another pleasant attribute that he’s been doing here recently. We just love him to death. Just his work ethic, his blue-collarism, it’s unbelievable. And I’m happy that it’s back in full form.”
The lineup of Russell-Reaves-Vanderbilt-James-Davis has a net rating of plus-30.3 in just 30 minutes – by far the Lakers’ best lineup, albeit still a very small sample size.
Would the Lakers like to use it more often now that they have it at their disposal again after Vanderbilt missed the season’s first 20 games?
“That’s on Coach,” Davis said.
And it was a question Ham evaded when asked.
“Well, right now, I’ll consider me getting something to eat, a nice glass of wine and consider sleeping very soon here,” Ham said. “Getting a good night’s sleep. No lineup questions, please.”
But the chemistry and comfort that group brings to the floor couldn’t be denied.
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“They all have the utmost confidence in all of their teammates, and particularly that five,” Ham said. “They’ve been through a lot of wars once they came together at the deadline last year and the way we pushed through the rest of the season and the playoffs. That group, that five, the way they know each other. They understand each other’s rhythm. It’s a great luxury to have.
“And it’s not about always starting that way, but you know you’re going to get to it. Every coach has a finishing six or seven, group of six or seven guys that he knows he can potentially finish with. There’s a variety of ways we can have that balance. But best believe, when it’s time to finish the game, the game is on the line, it’s a good five to have in your back pocket.”
LAKERS AT ROCKETS
When: Monday, 5 p.m. PT
Where: Toyota Center, Houston
TV/radio: Spectrum SportsNet/710 AM