The showdown between the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers still will feature the teams with the NBA’s best record. But both will go into the game without the momentum they’d been building all month.
The Indiana Pacers halted the Lakers’ 14-game road winning streak, 105-102 on Tuesday, one night after the Bucks’ run of 18 consecutive wins ended.
“One reason [for the winning streak] was we kept our composure,” Lakers star LeBron James said. “And we did that tonight too. We still had an opportunity to win the game, we just didn’t. Throughout the winning streak we was able to keep our composure throughout adversity. Up or down, still being able to make a game out of it, which we did tonight, but sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”
Said teammate Avery Bradley: “All I can really say is let’s start another one next game.”
Dwight Howard and James led the Lakers with 20 points each. James also added nine assists and nine rebounds. Indiana forward Domantas Sabonis led all scorers with 26 points.
The Lakers were without Anthony Davis, who sprained his right ankle Sunday in Atlanta, and Coach Frank Vogel said after the game that Davis was day to day and could be available Thursday against the Bucks. They also lacked Kyle Kuzma, who has missed four games with a sprained left ankle. That meant Jared Dudley started at power forward.
The Lakers led by as many as 10 early on, and though they missed all four three-pointers they attempted, they made 52.2% of their shots. James scored nine points in the first quarter, with six rebounds and three assists.
The Pacers recovered quickly and, behind double-digit first halves from Sabonis and Myles Turner, trailed by only two at halftime.
“I don’t even know if we had a true power forward,” Lakers guard Alex Caruso said. “I think we just mostly played four-out guards and just tried to make it work, but it always hurts me to lose a guy of AD’s caliber just for what he does for our team, the attention he draws. But I think we did a good job, especially in the second half, of bringing energy defensively, just being scrappy and then obviously getting open shots.”
The game remained close throughout the fourth quarter. After a three-pointer by Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon with 3:17 left cut the Lakers’ lead to 100-98, James and Howard each missed a pair of free throws on back-to-back possessions. Brogdon then tied the game on a jumper.
With a minute left in the game, James drove and kicked the ball to Caruso in the corner opposite the Pacers bench. Caruso missed a three and the Pacers took the lead on another shot by Brogdon.
“Thought it was in the first time, then it bounced off the backboard,” Caruso said of his shot. “Thought it was in the second time.”
Down two with 11.7 seconds left, James missed a deep three-pointer. Rajon Rondo leaped for the rebound and attempted to throw the ball off the Pacers’ Aaron Holiday, but a review determined that his foot landed out of bounds before the ball left his hand.
“When it initially happened I thought I made a decent play,” Rondo said. “Obviously they reviewed it in Jersey and overturned it. I don’t think it was enough to overturn but like I said, I don’t get paid to look at those cameras.”
Sabonis made one of two free throws with 10.7 seconds left, which left the Lakers with time for one last play to try to force overtime.
“We were hoping to get LeBron coming around the left corner and it broke down,” Vogel said. “[Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] was supposed to curl, didn’t see it was there, so the play got a little disjointed.”
The Lakers’ last shot ended up being a long Rondo three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left that rimmed out.
“We didn’t execute the play to a T,” James said. “‘Do got a really good look at it. Kind of like all our threes. A lot of mine was kind of the same way, kind of rimmed in and rimmed out and ‘Do had the same look. We didn’t actually execute the set.”
The Lakers, who lost for the first time since Dec. 1, are 24-4, just like the Bucks, while the Pacers improved to 19-9 with their fourth win in a row.
“The game is over with,” Howard said. “There’s no need to hang our heads. There’s no need to complain. We got to get ready for Milwaukee. That’s the only thing we can do.”