Russell Westbrook leaves Canada as the Los Angeles Lakers’ hero of the night after sending the game against the Toronto Raptors to overtime with a last-second triple — leading to a crucial 128-123 win.
Thanks to the victory, L.A. avoided their 12th straight defeat away from home, which would have tied the second-longest losing streak on the road in franchise history.
Wenyen Gabriel enjoyed the best game of his career on Friday, ending up with career-high 17 points on 7-for-8 from the field. LeBron James chipped in 36 points in addition to nine rebounds and seven assists. And besides the key triple, Westbrook recorded another triple-double this season, putting up 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.
For the first time in a while, the Lakers played well out of the gate — in big part thanks to an impressive showing from Gabriel. In his first start for the Lakers, and only second of his career, the forward racked up 10 points in just three minutes to give L.A. a 15-5 lead.
However, the Raptors wiped the deficit out in no time with an 18-3 run, as the Lakers couldn’t find a way to contain Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet.
Gabriel continued to cause troubles for Toronto, making all of his six shots — including a couple of 3s — to tie his career-high scoring tally of 14 points in the first quarter. But the 24-year-old quickly fell into foul trouble, collecting three fouls with just 2:01 left.
Still, the Purple and Gold ended the opening quarter with a 33-30 lead, staying ahead after the first 12 minutes for the first time in five games.
The Lakers seemingly played with a different energy, putting in respectable effort on both ends of the floor. On offense, they impressed with patience and good ball movement, creating plenty of open looks along the perimeter as well as in the paint.
Their good play continued in the second period, extending the lead to six points at the halfway mark. Notably, L.A. shot the ball significantly better than over the last three games, going 7-for-17 (41.2%) from the 3-point land before halftime.
The Raptors closed the first half with a 7-0 run. Then, Austin Reaves tried to lay the ball in after cutting from the left corner on the last play of the second half, but the ball rolled in and out of the rim — and the Lakers went to the locker room with a 59-55 lead.
Gabriel fired another triple for L.A. in response to Toronto’s quick six points to open the second half. But a few possessions later, he appeared to roll his ankle while contesting Barnes’ floater. The forward left the game soon after following a Lakers timeout but would return onto the floor before the end of the quarter.
Meanwhile, Barnes kept hitting difficult jump shots and floaters from mid-range and under the rim. Then, halfway through the third, James found Westbrook wide open on the weak side with a long lob pass, the 2017 NBA MVP drilled his second triple of the night and tied the game at 73-73.
Two minutes into the fourth, Gabriel showed off great composure, beating a double-team by dishing out a dime to James, who threw down a dunk to give the Lakers a four-point lead.
But the Raptors started to dominate the offensive glass as the game went on. The extra possessions — and points off L.A.’s turnovers — allowed Toronto to go neck and neck with the Lakers despite a much-improved performance from the Purple and Gold.
The Lakers kept shooting the ball well — and would end the night 18-for-41 (43.9%) from downtown. That included a circus, high-arch, bank shot triple from James for a 108-107 lead. However, the Raptors hardly missed a shot late, taking a three-point lead with less than half a minute left in the game.
But then, Westbrook stripped the ball off of Precious Achiuwa, charged the other way, and hit the unbelievable 3 to tie the game with 0.9 seconds on the clock — taking his left foot off the line right before releasing the ball.
The clash remained a tight contest over the extra five minutes, but the Lakers edged out the Raptors, snatching an essential win on the road.
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