Given how the two teams have been playing lately, there were plenty of jokes about the Saturday night primetime matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors in the leadup to tip-off. As it turned out, it would have been a shame if this game wasn’t on national TV.
The two teams went back and forth all night long in a highly entertaining matchup that the Lakers eventually won, 124-116, snapping a four-game losing streak, thanks to a dominant performance by LeBron James. The 37-year-old turned back the clock, pouring in 56 points for his highest-scoring game as a member of the Lakers, and the third-highest scoring game of his career. His three straight triples in the middle of the fourth quarter were the turning point, giving the Lakers the lead for the first time since early in the second quarter.
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Amidst controversy about his recent performances and a potential move to the bench, Russell Westbrook came through with 20 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Carmelo Anthony came off the bench to chip in 14 points and eight rebounds, including a clutch 3 with just over 30 seconds to play that sealed the win.
After an incredible shooting performance early on, the Warriors ended up missing their final five 3-pointers as they faded down the stretch. Steph Curry led the way with 30 points and four rebounds, while Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga combined for 41 points off the bench. The Warriors have now lost four straight games and eight of their last 10.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. LeBron turns back the clock
The story of the night, without a doubt, was LeBron James. Speaking to ABC’s Lisa Salters on the court after the win, he described a sense of “desperation” given the Lakers’ recent poor run of form. Intent on making sure their slide did not continue, he dialed up one of the best performances of his career.
He got off to a terrific start, outscoring the Warriors by himself over the first five minutes, and never looked back. Every facet of his game was on point on Saturday. He was bullying his way into the paint for easy baskets and trips to the free throw line (12-for-13), and was feeling it from downtown (6-for-11).
There were plenty of highlights along the way, including a few huge dunks, but nothing was more exciting than his run of three straight 3s in the fourth quarter. After he made the first two, it was obvious he was searching for room to get off another one, and Jeff Van Gundy on the broadcast said it was a mistake. Then LeBron calmly drained it anyway to put the Lakers in front for the first time since the second quarter.
LeBron finished the night with 56 points, setting a new high for his Lakers tenure and tying the third-highest scoring game of his career. He also became just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 after turning 37 years old, joining Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jamal Crawford.
This was a truly incredible showing by LeBron and another reminder that he’s still one of the league’s premier players. He might be nearing the end of his career, but he still has a lot left in the tank, and it’s a joy to be able to watch him.
2. Amid drama over role, both sides of Westbrook were on display
Russell Westbrook’s tenure with the Lakers has been a borderline disaster and could be approaching a tipping point. Recent reports indicate that both sides want to part ways in the offseason, and some in the organization want him to be benched — an idea head coach Frank Vogel has resisted so far.
Amid all the drama, Westbrook has maintained that he’s going to continue fighting and doing his best to make it work. For most of the night on Saturday, that’s just what he did. He played under control, made some smart cuts off the ball for easy baskets and finished with 20 points, four rebounds and four assists on 9-for-17 from the field. Overall, it was the type of performance the Lakers have wanted from Westbrook this season.
In the final few minutes, though, we saw why this has not been a great fit. Westbrook checked in with four minutes to play, and down the stretch had two turnovers and a badly missed fade away as the Lakers were trying to hold on to the lead. They ended up winning anyway, but those are plays you aren’t going to get away with on a regular basis.
3. Warriors’ slide continues
The Warriors got off to a flying start this season, opening up 18-2 to signify to the rest of the league that they were back as a title contender. Ever since Draymond Green went down with a back injury, however, that status has been thrown into doubt. The last few weeks, in particular, have been concerning.
Following this defeat to the Lakers, the Warriors have now lost four games in a row and eight of their last 10 to drop to 43-21 on the season. All of a sudden they’ve fallen to third place in the West behind the surging Memphis Grizzlies, and if they don’t get it together quickly, they’re going to have the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks in their rear-view mirror.
The Warriors haven’t been great on either side of the ball lately, but the defensive drop-off without Green has been the most obvious problem. They’re allowing 114.9 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games, and let the Lakers do pretty much whatever they wanted for most of Saturday night.
If Green comes back and is something close to his usual self, he’ll solve a lot of problems, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. In fact, it’s not even clear when he’s going to play again. Green is hopeful it will be prior to the end of the regular season, but there’s no official timeline.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism