LeBron James stood near the free-throw line under the Indiana Pacers’ basket, while teammate Kyle Kuzma shot a free throw at the opposite end of the court.
“Come on, LeBron, I need more from you tonight!” one fan yelled from the section behind him.
The problem wasn’t James, who had 22 points, six assists and five rebounds at that time in the third quarter. But the Lakers had just blown a 24-point first-half lead and were at that moment fighting for a game that should have been so much easier.
The Lakers eventually defeated the Pacers 104-96 in a game that saw the Pacers take a three-point lead in the third quarter, eliciting boos from fans at Staples Center.
In the end, James took over to secure the win.
“LeBron was spectacular,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
In his 38 minutes, James finished with 38 points on 15-of-27 shooting, 12 of the points in the fourth quarter. He had nine rebounds and seven assists and also took a charge midway through the fourth quarter with the Lakers up by three.
When the Pacers pulled to within one with 4:56 left, James hit a three-pointer, grabbed a defensive rebound and made a layup and ensuing free throw to push the lead to seven.
“That’s the challenge of things I’ve been kind of battling with since the season started,” James said. “How much do I defer and allow some of our young guys to kind of try to figure it out and how much do I try to take over games? I think tonight was one of those instances where they looked at me and they wanted me to close the game. I just tried to make plays.”
Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored in double figures for the Lakers, who had a 38-15 lead after one quarter but saw it trimmed to 56-50 at the half.
Domantas Sabonis led the Pacers off the bench with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Indiana shot only 37.2%.
Everything went right for the Lakers in the first quarter. They opened on a 13-0 run and didn’t let the Pacers get comfortable. Indiana made only five of 25 shot attempts while the Lakers shot 69.6% and notched seven blocks. Lonzo Ball, Ingram and JaVale McGee each had two while Tyson Chandler had one.
“JaVale’s first contest of the game was incredible and it kind of set the tone,” Walton said.
The Lakers’ 23-point lead in the first quarter was their biggest first-quarter lead since January 9, 2004, when they had a 28-point advantage against the Atlanta Hawks.
That prosperity didn’t last.
Indiana outscored them 35-18 in the second quarter, notching twice as many fast-break points as the Lakers. Sabonis scored 14 points in the second quarter.
“You get a lead and then guys start to think, ‘OK, we’re gonna win, now let me score the ball,’” Walton said. “And we stopped playing the way that we get our lead.”
In the second and third quarters, the Lakers missed 10 consecutive three-pointers. During that stretch, back-to-back threes helped the Pacers take the lead at 69-66, with Tyreke Evans scoring the go-ahead bucket.
James followed by scoring five quick points with a fade-away and a three-pointer that finally broke the Lakers’ drought.
Then the game bent to James’ will and the Lakers never trailed again.
“Today he was really aggressive, played with a chip on his shoulder,” Hart said. “When you have that, you want to get stops and get the ball in his hands.”