Then, just like that, the Los Angeles Lakers came back with a bang and this play-in game, mesmerized in the skies, started to live up to its impossible billing.
It took the Lakers a minute in the fourth quarter to earn their first lead of the night. Back and forth it was all going from there, because whenever they looked ready to retire to Phoenix for a first-round series against the Suns, Golden State would respond.
Well Steph Curry (37 points) would respond, hitting three ice creams after three ice creams. With three minutes remaining, he danced through two defenders in the lane, hit a float and gave the Warriors a three-point lead. The momentum was once again with them.
With one minute to go and the Lakers in possession, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got stuck under the basket on a broken game. 100-100 on the scoreboard, seconds expiring on the shot clock and the rotating warriors’ defense closing in, cutting off all available passing lanes.
Enter LeBron James, fresh out of the phone booth, glasses quietly thrown away, a raised hand calling for the ball and the cape fluttering in the breeze.
103-100. The last points of the game.
About a minute earlier, James had been the victim of an under-rim foul by Draymond Green, whose block attempt ended up connecting with the face of the reigning Finals MVP.
Like any actor with a great sense of occasion, timing and drama, or just a basketball player looking for a blatant foul on an opponent, James walked off the pitch and made sure he took his time to come back.
He sat up and narrowed his eyes as a Lakers staff member carefully squeezed a few drops of eye drops into the affected area. Finally, tripping over the floor and muttering something to the referees about not being able to see, he threw the first free throw.
At the second, he snapped the edge, maybe just to really convince.
“After Draymond’s finger entered my eye, I saw three rims there. I was just aiming for the middle one, ”James said after the game, explaining his longest mark of the season (34 feet) and his longest shot. in the last three minutes that he ever hit in his career was a bit of a fluke.
Curry, who watched him fly above his head, an expression of disbelief etched on his face, was more complimentary in his assessment.
“Great players of all time make great shots. You can say it again, Steph.
It’s a tough loss for the Warriors who did so many good things for so much of the game, but now have to host the Memphis Grizzlies in a win or comeback game on Friday night, a playoff series. against the seeded Utah Jazz in play.
Andrew Wiggins vigorously guarded James and gave as good as he got on the opposite end, even hitting the “king” with a recoil jumper spinning right in the face.
Draymond Green was a swarming, malevolent force on the defensive side, haunting Anthony Davis’ every step for long stretches of time. Eventually AD started to get going, Green’s passion said and the faults started to add up. But make no mistake, that dominant halftime lead was due to his overwhelming energy, captivating with dreams and chest-puffing under his own basket.
Los Angeles Lakers
For the Lakers, the difference in the second half came down to two things: Golden State’s propensity for expensive turnovers and the impact of Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma and Wesley Matthews on the bench. These three took their toll and Golden State was second to none whenever Curry sat down.
Caruso and Kuzma have been the unsung heroes of the Lakers ‘season and have been by far the most consistent performers on the team during James and Davis’ long absences.
Golden State Warriors
Defensively, Caruso brings it all together for Los Angeles and was instrumental in tracking down Curry when it became apparent that Dennis Schroder was not up to the task. He might not team up, but he certainly deserves All-Defense consideration.
Kuzma, meanwhile, chased rebounds like his life depended on it and made several smart reads on offense when it mattered.
Then there was Matthews. The veteran keeper was acquired as a free agent purely because of his tenacity and tonight proved why. He played 14 minutes, only hit one shot – a huge three-pointers to close the gap over the Warriors – but was +17 in those minutes, thanks in large part to his energy, drive and Basketball IQ.
He also swindled the referees in a decisive offensive foul on Green moments before the winner James.
The referees blew for a moving screen that didn’t budge, an optical illusion on Matthews’ part, so the Lakers recovered the ball and took a two-point lead. It won’t make the headlines, but sometimes it’s those dark, calm arts games that win matches. Obviously, the 34 foot Hail Mary helps.
The Lakers must now rest and regroup ahead of what will be an extremely difficult first-round series against Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns. Frank Vogel would do well to think about his rotation as well, with starting center Andre Drummond ineffective and Davis infinitely better every time he plays 5.
For the warriors, there will simply be no time. A rematch with the Memphis Grizzlies takes place on Friday night, with the winner stepping forward to face seeded Utah Jazz and the loser packing for an early vacation.
A few weeks ago, LeBron James said whoever is hosting the Play-In tournament needs to be fired. Based on tonight’s broadcast, I couldn’t disagree more.