The Los Angeles Lakers secured the seventh seed in spectacular fashion with their Play-In Tournament victory over the Golden State Warriors. While it took a balanced effort from the Purple and Gold, the clutch play of LeBron James proved to be the difference down the stretch.
James got poked in the eye by Draymond Green just seconds before draining a three over Stephen Curry to beat the shot clock buzzer. The shot set up the league’s top-ranked defense led by Anthony Davis to steal the ball on the Warriors’ last possession to put the nail in the coffin for the 103-100 victory.
The 36-year-old recorded a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds before coming up with his biggest shot of the night. While his performance was a familiar site for fans, going down to the wire is not something the Lakers want to get accustomed to.
Davis praised James for flexing his clutch gene and felt the defense managed to close out strong following a stagnant stretch.
“First of all, I think we might need to poke LeBron in his eye a lot more to hit shots like that,” Davis joked. “But he’s done it his whole career. He’s done it since I’ve been knowing him, hitting from that type of range. It was a big shot to put us up three and then the defense at the end, knowing that they’re down three and Steph’s gonna be the guy to probably shoot it and we just smothered him, tried to make someone else beat us.
“And that’s the type of defense we needed, especially in that second half. First half it was very lackadaisical and not Lakers basketball, not our type of defense. But we picked it up in the second half and just kept going. We just kept playing, we know it’s not gonna be perfect against a team like that but at the end of the day we came out with the win and that’s all that matters.”
Frank Vogel also credited James for picking up where he left off as the best player in the world after being sidelined with an ankle issue during the end of the regular season.
“It’s a difficult situation for our group to be in. We’re not used to seeing him trying to work through small stretches where he’s finding his legs and his lungs. Obviously, he still dominated the game. It took a little while to get going. The second half was slow for all of us offensively, but he proved he’s the best player in the world with what he does down the stretch. Obviously, he hits that bomb with the game on the line to win it for us. Put it on his resume, add it to the list of great plays and great accomplishments. Just a superb performance by him.”
James’ performance is a testament to his ability to take control of the game at this stage in his career. There is no question that the sot over Curry will be remembered as one of his more spectacular moments, especially if the Lakers find a way to defend their title as the seventh seed.
Davis certainly did his part with a team-high 25 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and a block. Perhaps even more encouraging is that the superstar duo seems to have recovered nicely from their injuries after combining for 77 minutes versus the Warriors.
James saw ‘three rims’ on game-winning shot
The shot by James in itself was impressive on its own merits, but there is no question that it was amplified by eye poke he had sustained on the prior possession. Despite being in clear discomfort, he did not hesitate to launch the deep three over Curry to ice the game.
James admits that his vision was still blurred on the shot and that his best hope was to aim for the middle rim.
“Well, the first thing I did when KCP kicked it out to me was look at the shot clock,” James said after the game. “I saw that I had to get it up. At least get it up, at least get it on the rim. Second thing I saw was three rims from being poked in the eye on that previous possession when I drove to the hole in transition, so I just aimed for the middle one.”
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