Everyone was so enthralled by the Lakers’ bench and the damage that group could inflict upon opponents — and rightfully so.
But on Monday night at Staples Center, the Lakers’ substitutes were not the stars of the bench game.
Portland’s Gary Trent Jr. had the brightest light among all the reserves, his stellar play off the bench a big reason the Trail Blazers pulled out a 115-107 win over the Lakers at Staples Center.
His 28 points were more than the Lakers’ entire bench scored.
His 10-for-14 shooting from the field and seven-for-11 showing from three-point range left the Lakers in a bind.
The Lakers had prepared for an onslaught from Portland’s dangerous backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. And the two players didn’t disappoint, with Lillard scoring 31 points and McCollum 20.
But the Lakers saw Trent get loose and never got a handle on him.
“Dame is gonna be Dame, CJ is always tough to guard, but we didn’t get Gary Trent under control,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on a videoconference after the game. “I think that was one of the biggest things with the bench. He came in and lit us up, and if you look at the box score, that’s where the separation really existed from a plus-minus standpoint is their bench combinations.”
Enes Kanter had 12 points and 14 rebounds off the bench for Portland, and Rodney Hood scored five points in his reserve role.
Trent, Kanter and Hood outscored the Lakers’ bench 45-23.
Trent went to work on the Lakers in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 points, making all four of his field-goal tries and all three of his three-point attempts.
“Our game plan coming in was for CJ and Dame, knowing they was going to get all the shots up,” the Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said on a videoconference. “But Gary Trent came in and he was on tonight. I don’t even think he missed a three. But things like that, we got to stop. We can’t let a third guy at least get over 25, 30, knowing that Dame and CJ is going to do that as well.”
Montrezl Harrell led the Lakers with nine points and six rebounds off the bench.
A night after starting, Kyle Kuzma was back on the bench and scored just six points on two-for-nine shooting.
Talen Horton-Tucker had six points off the bench, and Wesley Matthews added two. Reserve Markieff Morris didn’t score during his seven minutes.
The Lakers were missing key reserve Alex Caruso, who didn’t play because he was in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
“We miss Alex,” Vogel said. “Alex is great energy. He’s one of our most vocal guys even when he’s not in the game. Just talking on coverages, he’s like an assistant coach over there, helping guys through defending actions. He’s a big part of what we do, obviously. So we certainly missed his energy tonight.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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