Lakers Win Play-In Thriller Over Warriors 103-100

It was an ugly first half for the Lakers, and it was an ugly second half for the Warriors, but in the end, someone had to win. LeBron’s clutch three won it for the defending champs in one of the most hyped-up NBA games in recent memory.

Golden State went into halftime with a 55-42 lead after a Curry buzzer-beater three, and things seemed pretty dicey for the Lakers. They did not look good at all in the first half. LeBron was 1-7 with 6 points, AD was 2-12 for just 5 points, and Dennis Schroder was 1-9 for 2 points. That’s a 14.3% combined shooting percentage for the Lakers’ top three scoring options.

While Schroder finished the game just 3-14 from the floor, 2-4 in the second half is a lot better than 1-9. LeBron finished 7-17 from the floor, which is pretty bad for his standards, but that also equated to 6-10 from the floor in the second half. AD ended up 10-24 from the floor, meaning he was 8-12 in the second half. So all three guys played much better in the second half than they did in the first.

LeBron clearly wasn’t himself in that game. Early on, he looked passive and out of rhythm–missing shots he normally hits, “leading from behind,” etc. But he came alive in the 4th quarter, eventually culminating with that tie-breaking deep three that ultimately proved to be the game-winner. And while LeBron didn’t look great for most of the game, he still finished with a triple double: 22 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals, 1 block and only 1 turnover for an overall +13 net in about 35 minutes of game action. AD went for 25pts and 12 rebounds in 42 minutes for a +2 overall rating. Like LeBron, AD was much, much better in the 4th quarter.

Andre Drummond played most of the first half, but then went down awkwardly and looked like he may have hyper-extended his hamstring and went to the bench for good. He only ended up playing 16 minutes the whole game, finishing with 4 points and 7 rebounds. I couldn’t find anything about him being injured, and he wasn’t even limping at all, but he never saw the floor again and the Lakers looked like a much better team with him on the bench. The stats bear it out, too:

I’m sure a lot of other people noticed this, too. The Lakers just have not played a lot of games with LeBron, AD and Drummond all on the floor. They’re still working out how to play together, and it’s clear their offense does not work well with Drummond on the floor right now.

For the Warriors, Steph Curry had a tremendous game. 37 points and 7 rebounds, 6 of 9 from three, and 12-23 from the floor overall. He had a +4 net in 40:37 of game action, and his team lost by three.

The Warriors got some good contributions from their role players in the first half, and for a while it seemed like they couldn’t miss, but they cooled down in the second half. Andrew Wiggins had a pretty good game, going 10-18 from the floor for 21 points and a +1 net, but it wasn’t quite enough. Draymond Green was 0-5 from the floor for just 2 points, but he added 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals. He played a team-high 41 minutes and had an even net plus/minus of 0 when he was on the floor.

All in all, it was a highly-entertaining game of basketball. It was the NBA’s two biggest superstars going head to head, in a game that came down to the wire and had lots of meaning and playoff implications.

Even though it wasn’t a true elimination game–the Warriors still have a chance at the 8th seed if they beat Memphis tomorrow night–it felt like the stakes were very high. It didn’t quite feel like a true playoff game, but it definitely didn’t feel like a regular season game.

When the Lakers were down and looking terrible in the first half, I don’t think anybody believed they were out of it. When they took the lead in the 4th quarter, I think most of us watching the game had a good sense that they weren’t going to relinquish the lead. But they did end up falling behind a bit late in the game, and LeBron’s three was a tiebreaker. So it was really close down the stretch.

I want to talk a bit about LeBron’s three: it was late in the shot clock, and it looked like it was basically a failed possession. KCP, in what looked like desperation after not being able to find a look, kicked it back out to LeBron who was way deep–probably about 30 feet from the hoop–with about 3 seconds left on the shot clock. LeBron shot it immediately, because he basically had to–the shot clock buzzer went off when the ball was still in the air. Now, I’ve been watching LeBron play since about 2005; I’ve got a pretty good feel when his shots are going in just by watching the way the ball comes off his hands. I’m not always right on my initial read, but I usually am. When I saw him let go of that shot, my immediate thought was “Yeesh, desperation heave.” But a split-second later, when the ball was at the peak of its arc, my thought immediately was, “Wait, that could go in…”

I’ve seen a lot of the LeBron-hating crowd say it was luck, it was a prayer. I don’t think so. He hits those shots now. He pulls from the logo all the time nowadays. It helped a lot that the 6′ 3″ Steph Curry was the one guarding him instead of the usual Draymond Green (6′ 7″) or any of the Warriors’ other defenders. But I don’t think that shot was luck. He had a hand up before he caught the pass, calling for the ball from KCP, meaning he was ready to pull from that distance, and he actually got off a legitimate jump shot. It wasn’t just a random heave. He set his feet, squared to the hoop and fired. I do not chalk that up to blind luck.

Enough with this nonsense that LeBron is not clutch. No matter how many big shots he hit, it will never be enough to silence the LeBron Haters. Someone on Twitter pulled up the numbers:

He’s by far the best clutch shooter of this generation, only Manu Ginobili comes close to him.

Now there was the ordeal with Draymond poking him in the eye. I don’t know how much it truly impacted LeBron’s vision–he said he was seeing three rims out there–but I’m kind of glad the refs didn’t call a flagrant on it because then we would be hearing non-stop about how flopping, embellishing, crybaby LeBron got a free flagrant and the refs handed the Lakers the game. It should’ve been a flagrant, but I’m kind of glad they didn’t call it.

As for the implications of this game, the Lakers now play the #2 seed Suns starting on Sunday, while the Warriors will have to beat the Grizzlies tomorrow to earn the #8 seed and play the Jazz. I think the Warriors will probably win, but it could be a close one. I don’t think either the Warriors or Grizzlies have much of a shot against the Jazz, however.

Most people are expecting the Lakers to take care of the Suns, and while I believe the Lakers should be the favorites in that series, I don’t know if it’ll be as easy as everyone expects. LeBron notoriously takes a little time to “feel out” a playoff series–remember last year they lost game 1 to the Blazers and game 1 to the Rockets in the second round–so I wouldn’t be shocked at all if the Suns win game 1 on Sunday.

I am a bit concerned with the Lakers’ slow start in that play-in game. It also looks like they don’t play well with Drummond on the floor. The Lakers have a lot to figure out, especially on offense, and it really hurts that their best players have missed so much time due to injuries. The Suns are ready to go, they’re healthy, they’ve played an entire regular season together and have things figured out. There’s not going to be a lot of time for the Lakers to settle in and get things figured out. Hopefully the play-in game cleared a lot of things up for them, because the Suns are a lot better than the Warriors and are not a team you can beat while playing at 80-85%.

That said, if the Lakers do beat the Suns, watch out. The deeper this team goes into the playoffs, the better and more cohesive they’ll get. The Lakers will get more and more dangerous as the playoffs go on.

If there is a time where they can be beaten, it’s now–early in the playoffs while they’re still trying to get back into peak form.

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