The Los Angeles Lakers have been without a full-strength LeBron James for a very long time. He missed 26 of the team’s final 30 regular-season games, and even when he returned he didn’t fully look like himself.
During the Play-In Tournament game and the first two games of the first round, James seemed passive, opting for jump shots and assists instead of getting to the rim.
For the first time in months, Lakers fans saw an aggressive and powerful James during the team’s Game 3 win over the Phoenix Suns. James finished with an underwhelming stat line by his standards — 21 points, six rebounds and nine assists — but he was 8-for-12 in the painted area, showing a newfound willingness to attack the rim.
James spoke about how he felt being able to play like his old self to give the Lakers a 2-1 series lead. “Well I mean it feels good for me personally to be able to make plays for our team, for my teammates,” James said. “That’s all I care about, I don’t care about what anyone else thinks outside of our locker room, outside of our support system, outside of our group. I’ve always been that way.
“Obviously it’s been a rough year on me as far as physically with my ankle and dealing with that trying to get it back to where it was before the injury. But every day is a step forward and we’ll continue to put the work into it with my treatment around the clock, getting it to, like I said, where it was before the injury and until then my teammates will continue to hold me down while I try to make plays for them.”
Lakers star Anthony Davis credited James for putting his foot on the gas in the third quarter to help the Lakers pull away and added that he still has another level to get to.
“He set the tone in the third quarter. He’s feeling good. He told me he’s still got another gear. We’re finding our groove. We’re finding our groove at the right time, but he set that tone for us and guys followed his lead and started attacking and making shots. Wes [Matthews] came in huge defensively and offensively for us, especially when Kenny went down.
“Guys stayed ready, but he came out on his mindset to attack the basket and kind of get some separation on that third quarter and guys kind of followed suit and was able to extend that lead. We still got to do a better job of finishing games and closing out games, but it was a good win for us. Like I said, it started with him in that third quarter to separate that lead and then it’s on us to do the same.”
Having James be close to full strength once again is a huge development for a team in desperate need of offensive production. His otherworldly ability to score at will while looking to get his teammates involved first is exactly what L.A. needs.
Now, James has two days off to rest after his big game, which should remove any potential for soreness or fatigue for Sunday’s Game 4.
James discusses adjustments during Game 3
The playoffs are all about adjustments, and no one knows this better than James. He spoke about how he adjusted to the Suns during Game 3. “Just making adjustments,” he said of what sparked the third-quarter run.
“I was reading the game, I wasn’t reading the game like I would like to in the first half so came back into the locker room, made some mental adjustments for me individually that I felt would work for our team and we were able to spark a run in the third.”
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