Through the first half of Saturday’s potential NBA Finals preview at Barclays Center, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Dennis Schroder kept pace with Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving, step-for-step.
The defending champions were playing especially short-handed—without LeBron James (high ankle sprain), Anthony Davis (calf strain), Kyle Kuzma (calf strain), Wes Matthews (Achilles) and Marc Gasol (hamstring tightness)—requiring Schroder and the supporting cast to hang with Irving, Kevin Durant, and company.
The depleted Lakers did that, and more.
Schroder helped fuel his squad to a surprising 61-58 halftime lead, which ultimately devolved into a stunning 126-101 rout. Dennis the Menace racked up 19 points and four assists, to go along with his customarily pesky defense. He picked on switches, specifically center Nicolas Claxton, with confident attacks to the basket and over the top.
Overall, Schroder shot 7-of-11 from the field, 3-of-4 from 3-point range, and made both of his free-throw attempts. The Lakers set season-highs with 19 threes on 55.9 percent shooting in what head coach Frank Vogel described as “a complete team effort.”
However, Schroder’s evening ended prematurely when he followed Irving straight to the locker room after both players received two technical fouls for a verbal exchange with 9:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Irving was seemingly irked by Schroder’s actions and could be seen throwing words back in his direction. The Lakers guard seemed taken aback by Irving’s sentiments, as both players were quickly assessed Ts and were separated. However, neither player seemed interested in ending the conversation, leading to another technical for each player.
Kyrie Irving and Dennis Schroder were both ejected after getting into it during the third quarter. pic.twitter.com/i2UEyKba3m
— ESPN (@espn) April 11, 2021
Schroder provided his take on the incident after the game, though he couldn’t offer a great deal of clarity. The Lakers guard claimed he was not aware that he had been given the initial technical, and he believes he earned the second for waving goodbye at Irving when he saw his counterpart was thrown out (tbh: LOL).
“I didn’t know at first that we got double technicals when he came up to me. After that, I kept asking him, What he is talking about? And he kept talking, kept talking…Then he got got kicked out, or got the second technical, and I mean I said ‘Bye.’ I don’t even know if I waved at him. I probably did. And then [the official] said, ‘You’re gone, too, because you waved at him.’ And I didn’t even know that I got the first technical when he came up to me,” the German floor general added.
“I don’t even know what I did, but I got kicked out, and I apologized for that to my teammates,” Schroder added.
(It was the third game in a row in which a Laker has been ejected, following Montrezl Harrell’s similarly unexplained tossing against the Toronto Raptors, and Markieef Morris’ late-game ejection against the Miami Heat on Thursday. On Tuesday, Harrell was thrown out for coming to the defense of Schroder, who was oddly suplexed by O.G. Anunoby.)
For what it’s worth. Schroder did not agree with the ruling from the referees.
“I mean, we’re competing out there,” he lamented post-game. “Just try to get a W. I think it was unnecessary. I mean, it’s unfortunate that I left my team out there by themselves.”
Irving had 18 points at the time of the scuffle and looked visibly frustrated at official Zach Zarba for the quick hook. Like Harrell in Tampa, Irving removed and hurled his jersey into the crowd before entering the tunnel.
Kyrie Irving gets ejected, then jersey launch and a fan catches it pic.twitter.com/FX7Cfbbknt
— The NBA Expert (@RealNBAExpert) April 11, 2021
Durant, who posted a modest 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 24 minutes, gave his subtle but telling take on the incident.
“No thoughts,” he said. “They control the game.”
Intentional or not, Schroder’s successful bid to get under Irving’s skin proved to be arguably his most significant contribution to the Lakers’ win.
The Lakers embarked on a 42-17 run post-ejection and outscored Brooklyn, 65-43, in the second half. L.A. was buoyed by another inspired collective team showing on both ends.
Jeff Green on what happened after Kyrie Irving and Dennis Schroder both were tossed: "They were the team that gathered themselves after that and stayed composed."
— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) April 11, 2021
Despite putting in just two quarters of work, Vogel lauded Schroder for his performance, as the coach has done all season.
“I love Dennis Schroder,” Vogel said plainly. “That’s the first thing you have to say. His competitive spirit, his fight, that swag. That wins for you.”
The Lakers impressively held the league’s best offense to 43.8 percent shooting and 5-of-27 from three.
All five LA starters scored at least 14 points, including a massive 20 and 11 double-double from Andre Drummond. The Lakers’ other buyout addition, Ben McLemore, showed of his sharp-shooting chops in his second game with the Purple and Gold, hitting five threes on the way to 17 points.
Undermanned Lakers show the Nets they're still the defending champs 😤 pic.twitter.com/1SohnZGe52
— LakeShow (@LakeShowCP) April 11, 2021
If these two coastal powerhouses do indeed meet in the Finals, the on-court product should look vastly different, with noticeably more star-power. Whatever the differences, though, one thing is certain: the Schroder-Irving matchup will be one to watch. Potentially for reasons beyond the box score.
“That’s gonna be a dynamic matchup if we see it again this season,” Vogel added.
In the end, Schroder couldn’t help but be positive about the trip to Brooklyn.
“That’s the best win of the year, ” Schroder exclaimed.
Despite being ejected, Dennis Schroder and the Lakers beat the Nets by 25 points 🤯 pic.twitter.com/P8he6yBEVb
— LakeShow (@LakeShowCP) April 11, 2021