Kyle Kuzma scored a career-high 41 points in just three quarters, and the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Detroit Pistons, 113-100, on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
After a 4-for-20 shooting night in Dallas just 48 hours prior, Kuzma took shot-after-shot in an empty gym on Tuesday, hoping to get back into a rhythm after missing two and a half games with a lower back contusion. The sophomore sharpshooter put up 500 shots in total.
“I shot 4-for-20, so that’s a reason to go to the gym,” said Kuzma of his workout on Tuesday. “I’m always in the gym continuing to put work in every single day and it paid off today.”
Kuzma was raised in Flint, Michigan rooting for the hometown Detroit Pistons. One of his fondest childhood memories is when the 2004 Pistons team defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. So it was only fitting that his career-high in points game against his favorite team growing up.
“It’s pretty cool,” Kuzma said of the milestone coming against the Pistons. “That’s the team I grew up watching. It’s pretty awesome just to do it in Staples.”
Unfortunately for the Pistons, they could not stop the Michigan product, nor could they contain him, as the forward was lights out on the night, shooting 16-for-24 from the field and 5-for-10 from beyond the arc.
“If I’m a great scorer, than Kuz is scary…” said teammate Michael Beasley who had a season-high 19 points off the bench in the win.
In addition to scoring a career-high in points, Kuzma joined some elite company as well as he became the only Laker in the shot clock era to score 41 points in less than 30 minutes. He also joined Klay Thompson, James Harden, Steph Curry and teammate LeBron James, as the only players in the NBA to score 40 points in three quarters this season.
According to Stats by Stats, Kuzma also became the first NBA forward to score 41 points in under 30 minutes of action since Larry Bird scored 43 points in 29 minutes in 1986.
“No matter what’s going on in the game he believes the next shot’s going in,” said Pistons guard Langston Galloway of Kuzma.
The Pistons put up a fight in the first half, leading by as many as five points before Kuzma caught fire at the end of the second quarter.
Kuzma stayed hot in the second half, scoring 22 points in the third quarter, as the Lakers extended the lead to 15 points.
“I felt hot,” Kuzma said of his third quarter performance. “Everything was in the flow of the offense. Nothing was forced. My teammates did a good job of finding me. I was in a rhythm. Anytime someone gets in a rhythm, you just try and build off of that.”
The Pistons countered Kuzma’s hot-shooting, by playing a 2-3 zone defense, and cut the score to six points before Kuzma broke it open. Los Angeles led by as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“He had a big night,” Pistons head coach Dwayne Casey said of Kuzma. “The young man had his career night. I thought in certain situations we defended him right and other situations we did not. That’s something we have to get better at one-on-one. The postive was I thought our zone defense was good.”
Former Clipper, Blake Griffin, led the Pistons with 16 points and six assists, but did not have a rebound. It is the first time in Griffin’s nine-year career spanning 505 regular season games that he did not grab a single rebound.
“You never want to come in and have a performance like that,” said Griffin. “Especially when you need wins. The energy wasn’t there. We have to figure that out.”
Andre Drummond had six points and 17 rebounds. Reggie Jackson chipped in 15 points in the loss.
“The game plan was to limit Drummond and Griffin on the boards,” said Kuzma of the Lakers defensive strategy. “Those guys are beasts. The guards did a great job of flying in and grabbing rebounds.”
The Lakers out-rebounded the Pistons, 47-to-34 in the game.
The Lakers also had one of the best passing nights of the season with 30 assists, and their best shooting night, with a season-high 56 percent from the field.
Additionally, the Lakers shot 72 percent from the free throw line, a vast improvement of their season average of 68 percent, last in the NBA.
“It felt like it was skipping around out there until it hit Kuz’s hand and would go up every time,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton of the ball movement. “I thought Lonzo [Ball] and Brandon [Ingram] were great again as far as them being aggressive and playing with that competitive spirit and just making the right plays.”
Ball had five points and 11 assists and Ingram had 10 points. Former Piston, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 15 points off the bench.
The Lakers played their eighth game without LeBron James, and this was a big win against a Detroit team that features two All-Stars in Griffin and Drummond.
Michael Beasley celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday night, and celebrated by scoring 19 points off the bench on 9-of-13 shooting.
Notes and Next
LeBron James (left groin strain) and Rajon Rondo (finger) did not play in the game. James is expected to be reevaluated on Friday.
The Lakers will travel to Utah to face the Jazz on Friday night at 7:00PM PT.