Column: Lakers in playoffs on miracle three-pointer ... because he’s LeBron

Basketball players collide at the net
Lakers forward LeBron James is fouled hard by Warriors forward Draymond Green on a layup on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He couldn’t see. He was off balance. He was out of time.

But he’s LeBron.

The Lakers were a mess in the first half, trailed late in the second half, and entered the final minute teetering on the shoulders of their exhausted leader.

But he’s LeBron.

Don’t understate it. Don’t trivialize it. And don’t ever, ever forget it.

As long as the Lakers have a healthy LeBron James, they are headed directly toward a second consecutive NBA championship, their first postseason steps dramatically showing as much Wednesday night in a 103-100 play-in victory over the Golden State Warriors at a thumping Staples Center.

LeBron James prepares to shoot over a Warriors player's head
Lakers forward LeBron James rises up to take, and make, the game-winning three-pointer over Warriors guard Stephen Curry on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

James is still searching for his legs. He is still searching for his stroke. He was still searching for relief in the fourth quarter when he was on the bench pounding his muscles with a massage gun.

But with 58 seconds remaining, he had no trouble finding The Moment, winning the game by sinking a fall-away 34-foot trey as the shot clock expired and the Warriors’ Steph Curry stared.

And, oh yeah, he did it a minute after getting smacked in the face by Draymond Green, so his eyes were watery and his vision was blurred.

“I saw … three rims from being poked in the eye,” James said afterward. “Just aim for the middle one, you know?”

Sure. Why not? It’s the postseason. It’s his oxygen, his food, his time.

After watching James play 35 minutes and record a triple-double while leading the Lakers back from a 13-point halftime deficit, are you still willing to succumb to all the late-season doomsday chatter and count them out?

Are you really going to believe that they are — in a word that appeared in this newspaper — “toast”?

Lakers-Suns schedule for first-round playoff series.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

A bet against the Lakers is a bet against James, and after Wednesday night, that would seem like a fool’s errand.

The win cements them as the seventh seed in the Western Conference and sets up a first-round series with the second-seeded Phoenix Suns beginning Sunday. The Suns should be favored. The Suns should be confident.

Yet with a healthy James, the Lakers win that series in five games, and do you see any team beyond that series who can dethrone them?

“Mike Tyson always said everybody got a plan until you get in the ring and you get punched … so we did that and it felt good, it felt great, it settled us,” said James of the Warriors battle. “It wasn’t comfortable, but it settled us and we were able to bring the fight to them. We’re looking forward to what’s going to be in store for the postseason.”

He is not yet at full strength after missing 26 games because of a right ankle sprain — the most absences in one season in his career — but his recovery has apparently been fast-tracked.

“I’m good,” he said. “That was the most minutes I’ve played in a long time and I didn’t feel anything.”


Which means Lakers fans felt everything, from exuberance to elation as they watched James hoist the Lakers on his back late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter with a litany of greatness.

James pulls off a steal that leads to a Davis fastbreak dunk. James throws a brilliant backdoor pass to Kyle Kuzma for a layup. James hits a three-pointer. James throws another backdoor pass to Alex Caruso for a layup. James hits Davis for an ally-oop dunk. James scores on a layup. James scores on a reverse layup.

At one point, he was so dominant, his rival Curry could only shake his head and clap his hands. Curry was amazing with 37 points, but even he was a bit player to James’ headliner. As the game dwindled to that final minute, with both Curry and James standing far beyond the three-point line, it was surprisingly unsurprising that it was James who took the big shot.

“We’re just not used to seeing him trying to work through small stretches where he’s finding his legs and his lungs … obviously he still dominated the game,” said coach Frank Vogel, later adding, “He proved he’s the best player in the world with what he was able to do down the stretch, and obviously he hits that bomb with the game on the line to win it for us. Put it on his resume, add it to the list of great plays, great accomplishments.”

His fifth NBA title would arguably be his greatest accomplishment. The Lakers are trying to become the lowest seed in league history to win a championship. They are also attempting to become the first team to win 17 games on the road to a championship.


They are working with a starting five that played together all of three games. They are working with two injured stars — James and Davis — who missed most of the last two months.

And before the final hour Wednesday, as the Warriors were harassing them into repeated first-half embarrassments, they were clearly battling a lack of faith that they could actually figure this out.

In a Golden State huddle early in the second quarter, coach Steve Kerr told his team, “They got a lot of doubt down there … we got a lot of belief.”

Enter the crunch-time James, who scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half with six assists and a team-leading plus-22.

“Bron? Psssh. That’s who he is,” said Wesley Matthews, who was a plus-17 in 14 giant minutes off the bench. “He steps up at big moments, big games. And to hit that shot was huge. But all the plays he made prior to that, putting the team on his back and coming downhill, making the right passes. Talking on defense. That’s who he is and that’s why he’s one of the best to ever play this game.”

LeBron James tries to block a dunk.
Lakers forward LeBron James attempts to block a dunk by Warriors guard Jordan Poole, who missed, on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

If James leads the Lakers to a title, that “one of the best” argument should be squelched forever. And make no mistake, that is the direction they’re headed.

“We just had to bring that fight to the fight,” said James.

They did. They will. The fight is here because LeBron James is here. And don’t ever, ever forget it.