Tyson Chandler beat his chest and pumped his arms in the air again and again. Then he threw his head back and roared as LeBron James rushed over to throw his arms around him.
The Lakers’ backup center had just blocked a shot attempt by Atlanta guard Trae Young at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 107-106 win. He and his teammates celebrated with a zest and exuberance fit for a playoff win.
After the streamers fell and “I Love L.A.” played, after they’d all changed out of their uniforms and had time to calm down, Chandler stood in the postgame locker room and couldn’t stop smiling. He was asked what James said to him and he couldn’t remember. All he knew was that they two 30-something veterans were jumping around with childlike joy.
From across the room, James heard the question.
“I said, ‘That’s my dog!’ ” James shouted over the crowd surrounding Chandler. “That’s my dog!”
The Lakers are 7-6, their first winning record in nearly two years. They have won five of their last six games.
“Overall I am pleased with our defense and offensively I think we took a little bit of a step back tonight but that is kind of the way it works,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “Move forward, move forward, step back, move forward. Glad we were able to get a win.”
James led all scorers with 26 points with four assists and seven rebounds. Lonzo Ball scored eight points and added 11 assists.
A slow start was expected with the Lakers playing on the second night of a back-to-back in which they flew home from Sacramento late Saturday night. The Hawks opened on a 9-0 run and led for half of the first quarter.
The Lakers took their first lead of the game with 6:04 left in the first quarter when Josh Hart hit a three-pointer to make the score 13-11. At halftime, the Lakers trailed 53-52 after committing 15 turnovers that led to 19 points by the Hawks. But the Hawks made only 38.5% of their shots and didn’t make the Lakers pay too much for their mistakes.
In the third quarter, James began to take over the game. He scored 10 points with three assists and four rebounds just during that period. The Lakers built a 15-point lead but Atlanta wasn’t finished.
The Hawks’ young star, Trae Young, led a comeback effort. Young had eight points and four assists in the quarter’s first 7 1/2 minutes to give the Hawks a one-point lead.
There were three lead changes in the game’s final two minutes, and with 19 seconds left, the Lakers found themselves down by one. James drove to the basket ferociously and was fouled. He missed both free throws.
“I’m garbage,” James said. “I suck from the free throw line right now.”
Kyle Kuzma got the rebound off his second miss and missed a shot. That gave James a chance at redemption. James’ put-back dunk sent the crowd into a frenzy and he hung from the basket as they roared.
Young had one last chance to take the game, but Chandler was waiting for him at the rim.
“I studied him a little bit and watched him throughout the course of the game,” Chandler said. “And I see how he has that flip shot. So it was just timing it and making sure he didn’t have enough time to give it to my guy, but once he committed I committed.”
In his three full seasons in Phoenix, the Suns never won more than 24 games.
The Lakers have won every game they’ve played with Chandler on their team. He was asked after the game if he almost forgot about the joy of winning in basketball and if that feeling has reawakened in him.