Due to a number of injuries on their roster, the Los Angeles Lakers fell just short of a comeback victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA playoffs on Sunday. Since their first game together in April, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond have had mixed results, but for the most part, they’ve had success as a tandem in this series. However, as we saw in Game 4, only one of them can function independently of the other, and it is not Drummond.
Drummond had an offensive rating of 87.8 and a defensive rating of 107.1 in 19 minutes of action on Sunday. The Suns’ guards relentlessly attacked him at the rim in the third quarter, which helped them build a big lead heading into the fourth.
Drummond did not play in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers used Gasol at center to go on a run. Obviously, that wasn’t the only change made by Frank Vogel from the third to the fourth quarter, but there was a noticeable difference in how the Lakers played on both sides of the ball with Gasol on the floor.
Maybe a quarter isn’t enough to convince Vogel to put Gasol in the starting lineup for Game 5, but it’s something he should consider, especially if Davis is ruled out. Anthony Davis is important — in fact, given how both teams have matched up through four games, he may be the most important player in this series — but his absence wasn’t the only one felt on Sunday; the Lakers also missed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Caldwell-Pope, who missed Game 4 due to a knee contusion, has only made one of his 13 3-point attempts in this series, but he’s been a net positive for the Lakers due to everything else he’s done. In fact, his +9.3 net rating ranks second on the team, trailing only Montrezl Harrell.
Wesley Matthews and Ben McLemore tried to fill in for Caldwell-Pope, but they were unable to replicate his defensive shrewdness. KCP will be required if the Lakers are to steal a game on the road on Tuesday.
Aside from LeBron James, four Lakers scored in double figures. Only one of those four players shot better than 40% from the field: Marc Gasol, who went 4-6 from the field and 3-5 from 3-point range. Outside of James, no one scored more than 15 points.
The entire point of signing the two top vote-getters for the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year Award, Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder, was to have someone to carry the load offensively when James sat or the offense just wasn’t flowing, but when the time came for those two to step up on Sunday, they either didn’t make their shots or didn’t play. This is a problem.
Then there was Kyle Kuzma, who tried to be aggressive offensively but couldn’t because he either lost the ball on his way to the basket or missed right at the basket. He finished the night 4-11 from the field.
One could argue that James should have taken over on offense sooner, but he also needs his teammates to make their shots. If they can accomplish this, their chances of winning a game or two without Davis will skyrocket.