There was a bit of a narrative surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers that they could not beat the NBA’s elite teams.
One weekend would go a long way towards ending that thought and it began on a Friday night at the Staples Center. The two 2019-20 NBA Most Valuable Player award frontrunners faced off for the final time as LeBron James and the Lakers hosted Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks and it was a showdown for the ages.
Antetokounmpo started off strong with 10 points in the first few minutes while also keeping Anthony Davis in foul trouble throughout the first half. However, James would step up to the challenge, guarding Antetokounmpo for much of the middle two quarters and helping to slow him down as the Lakers climbed back in the game.
The third quarter was the deciding factor as the Lakers would go on an 18-0 run to lead by as many as 13. In the fourth, Davis and James completely dominated and Los Angeles held off Milwaukee for a convincing 113-103 win.
James put forth arguably his best performance of the season with 37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and three steals while Davis shook off his early foul trouble to finish with 30 points (14 in the fourth quarter).
Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists, but the Lakers defense was able to contain basically everyone else on the Bucks unlike their first matchup in Milwaukee, which was a 111-104 loss.
While Donte DiVencenzo scored 17 points, the Lakers held Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Wesley Matthews to just 26 points combined on 11-of-38 shooting. The Lakers got 11 points and eight rebounds from Kyle Kuzma and eight points from Alex Caruso but much like the Bucks, it was a struggle between two of the league’s best defenses.
Both shot under 42 percent from the field and under 30 percent from the three-point line. Where the Lakers were able to make up the difference was on the glass as they outrebounded the Bucks 52-45 and forced 19 turnovers.
This was not the prettiest game but in terms of importance, it was massive. It showed that even at less than their best, the Lakers could beat elite teams and reopened a race that many thought was a foregone conclusion.