Luke Walton benches Lonzo Ball, other starters late in game to send message

Lakers coach Luke Walton sent a message to Lonzo Ball and his other starters late in Friday night’s 101-92 home loss to the Raptors, benching them with several minutes remaining in a close game.

With just under four minutes remaining and the Lakers down 91-83, Walton benched Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brook Lopez and Larry Nance Jr. 

“I took the starters out a little early in the third because they didn’t get back in transition defense. which is our No. 1 key to being a good defensive team,” Walton told reporters after the game. “We talked about how important that third quarter was with the momentum of the game changing and them being a playoff team, so we can’t afford to give those up so as a teaching lesson we took them out a little earlier than I normally have done.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get back on defense again with four minutes to go in a close winnable game. You can’t just give away free points. To let them know how serious we are about transition defense, we pulled them out again. We were going to let the starters see what they can do with the game. But when they didn’t get back on the break, they are telling me and each other that they don’t really want to finish that game.”

Ball, who celebrated his 20th birthday Friday, finished with five points, seven rebounds and six assists. He admitted afterward the Lakers gave up too many easy points.

“I think we just lost our intensity, to be honest,” Ball said (via ESPN). “A good team over there and they came back (in the) second half strong, and we didn’t accept it very well and we lost.

“(The starters) gave up a lot of fast-break points, people not getting back, it was a unit thing so that is why he pulled everybody. We were just ball-watching, to be honest. I was supposed to be back on the point guard, sometimes I go crash [the glass] and I am supposed to get back and just not talking.”

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