Through all of their losses and injuries and turnovers in their first 60-plus games, despite all of their mighty and embarrassing struggles to find their rhythm and identity and a sustainable defensive scheme, the Lakers insisted they had the personnel and the heart to turn around a season that has been irredeemably disappointing by every possible measure.
For too long, they talked a better game than they played. Finally, they came up with the goods in spectacular fashion, riding LeBron James’ Lakers-high 56 points to win an exhilarating, back-and-forth marquee matchup against Golden State on Saturday that left only one question as confetti dropped from the ceiling and the sellout crowd at Crypto.com Arena tried to absorb what it had just seen:
Why couldn’t the Lakers have played this well and showed this deep reserve of skill and fight before the spectacular 124-116 victory that had the building roaring and shaking and rocking to its very foundation?
LeBron James, at age 37, scored 56 points as the Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors 124-116 on Saturday night to end a four-game losing streak.
James’ 56-point effort — five short of his career high but equal to the league best this season set by Atlanta’s Trae Young — was the obvious reason the Lakers were able to halt their latest downward spiral. The injury-caused absence of Golden State forward Draymond Green helped the Lakers’ cause at both ends of the floor, but the Lakers are still without Anthony Davis and miss him at both ends of the floor, too.
Walking past the courtside seat of Rams Super Bowl-winning quarterback Matthew Stafford in the waning seconds, James told Stafford, “Can’t have you in the building and not put on a show.”
That he did, hitting 19 of 31 shots, including six of 11 from three-point range and 12 of his 13 free throw attempts. “It’s Bron being Bron,” Austin Reaves said, at a loss for any other way to explain it. And maybe there was no better way to explain why James, at 37, is still dominant and always seeking ways to improve.
The Lakers never needed his will more than they did Saturday. A loss would have left them tied with New Orleans for 10th in the West. They’ve gone from hoping to win another title to praying they can squeeze into the league’s contrived play-in system and win two games to give themselves a second chance. There’s still a long way to go, but James gave them reasons for optimism about his ability to carry them and their ability to rally around him and play complementary roles.
“There’s really no words for it. An incredible performance by the best to ever do it in my opinion, as I’ve said,” coach Frank Vogel said. “It’s just remarkable, his will, and I think the biggest thing is what he’s done to transition his game at this stage of his career in terms of his shooting, I mean it’s just an example to every player to put the work into his craft.”
Vogel said he had no premonition that James would come up with so great a performance because James’ work ethic and determination hadn’t changed and he’d been averaging about 30 points. Vogel saw what he always sees in James. “His will and determination to say, ‘Hey we’re going to get off this losing streak and change the momentum of our team,’” Vogel said.
But Saturday’s rally also was a product of teamwork and grit, of Reaves and Malik Monk stepping up in tandem, of finding a way to bend but not break after Golden State scored 42 points in the second quarter, the fourth straight game the Lakers had allowed an opponent to score 40 or more in a quarter.
The Lakers had been waiting for a signature victory to boost their confidence and halt the miserable momentum that had pushed them to four straight losses and 11 in their previous 14 games. Before Saturday’s game, Vogel said he had been approaching every contest thinking it would be the one to change their outlook and their season. He thought it would happen Tuesday against Dallas. He thought it could happen Thursday against the Clippers. It didn’t happen either time, but he never lost hope. This time, he said he’s hopeful the momentum will shift dramatically in the Lakers’ favor.
“Our group has not separated. And we have not cracked. We’ve faced more adversity and bad nights and tough nights than any team I’ve been a part of but he leads us,” Vogel said of James. “He leads us with his consistent demeanor of trying to get better and keeping the group together. What he did tonight was spectacular.”
James, in an interview on national TV, said he was happiest to have performed so well in front of the home crowd, which hasn’t had much reason to cheer this season. Asked what’s next, he smiled and mentioned the team’s upcoming trip to San Antonio and Houston. “We’ll see what we can do,” he said.
Now we know what he and they can do. Pull it off a few more times and this season could become interesting.
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