For much of the regular season, point guard Dennis Schröder carried the Los Angeles Lakers on offense.
The cat-quick point guard pushed the pace, regularly attacking the basket and creating offense when LeBron James and Anthony Davis out for long stretches due to injuries.
However, when Schröder went out due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols for a second stint this season, the Lakers missed his ability to get into the paint, creating open looks for other teammates.
Well, it took a few games for the 27-year-old to shake off the rust, but when the Lakers needed him most in Game 2 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, Schröder responded.
He finished with 24 points, three assists and three rebounds in 33 minutes, helping the Lakers even up the series with a 109-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.
“Dennis was in attack mode from the very beginning,” James said. “He lived in the paint. And when they sagged off him, he hit his shots from the perimeter as well, both from the three and from the midrange.”
Schröder missed a total of 11 games due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The Lakers were 4-7 without him in the lineup. He returned for the two games of the regular season but was still shaking off the rust after having not played for two weeks.
But in Game 2 against the Suns, Schröder appeared in better rhythm offensively and was back to being a pest on the defensive end.
“After the first game, I talked to coaches and watched film, and they told me just to be aggressive,” Schröder said. “So, at the end of the day I just did that, tried to be creative, getting into the lane and just putting pressure on the rim.”
The two teams meet again on Thursday at Staples Center in Game 3, with around 7,000 fans expected to be allowed in the facility for the first playoff game in Los Angeles since 2013.
James said Lakers fans provided energy to his team in L.A.’s win over the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament to get into the postseason. And it should be even more festive for the Lakers’ first official playoff game at Staple Center in eight years.
“It’s going to be pretty special for our fans, and to have our fans in the building,” James said. “We want to continue to make them proud, and that’s what I came here for, to be able to play a playoff game in front of the Laker faithful.”
Lakers power forward Anthony Davis also rebounded from a disappointing, 13-point effort in Game 1, finishing with 34 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in L.A.’s Game 2 win.
Davis said he was focused on getting to the basket from the opening tip.
“I played with a lot more energy and effort tonight,” Davis said. “And I just played aggressive. I think that was the difference from Game 1.”
The Lakers also played from ahead instead of behind, grabbing a six-point advantage after the opening quarter.
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said his team’s ability to start fast was important, and something the Lakers need to continue to do as they look to take an edge in the series in Game 3 on Thursday.
“We came out with great assertiveness, attention to detail and defensive pressure,” Vogel said. “Obviously, this is a great team we are playing, even shorthanded with the way CP3 (Paul) is limited, they still are getting great play from all their guys.
“This is a team with the second-best record in the NBA. So, it’s not going to be situation where it’s easy to knock them out in any game.”