Without LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook, the Los Angeles Lakers put up a good fight against the Golden State Warriors (128-112) on the road but couldn't close the game in the fourth quarter. Led by Talen Horton-Tucker's (THT) career-high 40 points, the understaffed Lakers kept up with the Warriors, who needed Klay Thompson's 33 and Andrew Wiggins' 17 points to beat the Purple and Gold.
THT's big night proves he wasn't the right fit
Despite the expected loss, the night belonged to THT, whose skill-set was on full display on Thursday. The third-year player out of Iowa State showed flashes of his lethal ability to get to the rim, play-make, and score when he's in rhythm — something that wasn't consistent in his game all year.
It's not a coincidence that THT had his best game of the year on the same night that Westbrook, another ball-dominant guard, took the day off.
"Talen was great tonight. Just had a look at him that he was going to attack this game," head coach Frank Vogel said. "He's at his best with the ball in his hands and shooters around him. We haven't been able to create that type of role for him, but you see what he can do," Vogel, who also admitted that it was hard to fit Westbrook and THT together, added.
"Just you know, coming into the year, understanding who I was playing with AD, Bron, Russ. I knew I had to settle into a role without the ball," THT, who didn't look comfortable without the ball on his hands all season, said.
The inability of THT to reach his peak this season is yet another unfortunate circumstance for the Lakers. Blame it on the roster construction, or the fact that Vogel played the young guard and Westbrook together too much, but it's a travesty for all parties that the team's fourth highest-paid player was barely a factor all year.
An anti-climactic way of ending a horror season
Vogel mentioned before Thursday's game that James and Davis would've sat out even if these next few games were important ones. According to Vogel, James' ankle hasn't fully healed yet, and Davis's initial foot sprain has worsened into plantar fasciitis injury, which hasn't recovered as well.
"Yeah well LeBron's (James) ankle is still not ready, he wouldn't be playing if we weren't eliminated. Anthony's (Davis) plantar fasciitis is causing him to limp around out there so he'll be out tonight and day-to-day. Russell's (Westbrook) been dealing with a shoulder thing that's been slowing him down and we're going to have him out tonight. Melo's (Carmelo Anthony) been trying to get over that stomach bug that he had last week and really hasn't been quite fully recovered from that so he'll be out as well tonight," Vogel said.
When asked if the future Hall-of-Famers would suit up on Friday in their last home game, Vogel said he's not ruling his players out yet. There's a chance that the Laker faithful see their superstars for the last time this season. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is uncertain, but as THT said, the team will do everything they can to give the loyal fans something to cheer about.
"You know obviously it's disappointing. But we have to come out and get a win," Horton Tucker said.