LeBron James turns terrible shot into game-winning put-back; Lakers survive Clippers in NBA restart thriller


What a night for the NBA and its fans. With everyone questioning how this no-fan bubble product was going to look and feel, both games Thursday looked and felt, well, pretty much exactly like NBA games. And they both came down to the wire. First, the Jazz held off the Pelicans when Brandon Ingram’s last-second 3-pointer rimmed out, then the Lakers outlasted the Clippers 103-101 on a terrible LeBron James shot that turned into a crazy game-winning put-back. 

After Paul George — who was fantastic for the Clippers — drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game with 28.7 seconds to play, LeBron came down on the other end with a chance to run the clock down to five seconds before having to shoot. Instead, he put up a terrible 18-footer, with Marcus Morris draped all over him, with 15 seconds remaining. He thought he had drawn sufficient contact, but didn’t get the whistle. Contact or not, that he was attacking that early was a surprise. 

No worries. LeBron followed his miss for the put-back.

If the Clippers rebound that ball, that’s a disastrous late-game decision by LeBron. But give LeBron credit for continuing with the play while his defenders lost focus for a split second. Somewhere there’s an old-school coach yelling” See, kids! Follow your shot!” Sometimes it actually works. 

LeBron was off most of the game, and it looked like it was going to be a familiar tale of shooting struggles against the Clippers, which has been a theme this season. And overall, it was. He shot just 7-for-19. But he turned it on late, hitting a couple of huge 3s before finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Anthony Davis picked up the slack for LeBron, finishing with 38 points and eight boards, though he wasn’t terribly efficient from the field either. He just got to the line 17 times, connecting on 16 of them. He was super active all night on both ends. He was a monster in the third quarter. I don’t often agree with Charles Barkley’s actual basketball assessments, but I do on this one: Davis represents the one major matchup advantage the Lakers have over the Clippers, and he has to be huge if the Lakers are going to eventually get past the Clips in the playoffs. 

For the Clippers, this loss comes with the qualification that Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell didn’t play. The Clippers’ bench, usually anchored by Williams and Harrell (who are one of the best pick-and-roll combos in the league, bench or otherwise), was a combined minus-40 on Thursday, while the Lakers’ bench was plus-35 largely on the strength of Kyle Kuzma and Dion Waiters, who combined for 27 points and 10 boards on 9-of-18 shooting. 

Don’t be so quick to say this would’ve surely been a different outcome had Williams and Harrell played. No doubt they would have made a difference offensively, but defensively is another story. The last time the Lakers and Clippers played, LeBron mercilessly hunted Williams in pick-and-roll switches and murdered him one on one. Doc Rivers will really have to think about his closing lineups should the Lakers and Clippers meet in the playoffs. 

One thing is for sure for the Clippers: Their stars are in playoff form, or at least they were Thursday night. Kawhi Leonard went for 28 points and was a game-high plus-16, while Paul George finished with 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting, including 6-for-11 from beyond the arc. Kawhi got to his spots, and George was in a wonderful rhythm. They are going to be an impossible duo to stop come playoff time. 

Then again, so are LeBron and Davis. That’s why this battle of L.A. is primed to be such a bubble showdown. You can make a case that either squad is the better team. The Clippers are more balanced, I believe, but LeBron and Davis are just so great. And by the way, LeBron can still get AFTER YOU defensively when he wants to. He can still carry a team to a championship, clearly. on Thursday night, all he did was lift the Lakers to a season re-opening win on an ill-advised that was … surely … just the way Frank Vogel drew it up. 

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