The four-and-a-half month wait was beyond excruciating, but if Thursday night was a sign of things to come, this NBA Bubble is going to be worth it.
After a relatively back-and-forth game, the Los Angeles Lakers gave an emphatic performance against their cross-town rivals, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 103-101 on a game-winning put-back from LeBron James with just 12 seconds left.
The win gives the Lakers a 6.5 game lead over the Clippers in the race for the coveted one seed in the NBA’s Western Conference playoff race, with just 7 contests remaining for each team. The win puts the Lakers in position to clinch the top spot with just two more victories.
But let’s be real for a second, this game wasn’t about the standings. Both squads’ spots were relatively set in stone before their arrival in Orlando. This game was about sizing each other up and making a statement, and the Lakers did just that. Here are some takeaways from game one in the bubble.
A King without his crown
Putting the final 30 seconds aside for a moment (we’ll get to that later), LeBron James was the Laker’s third best player on Thursday behind Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma.
James finished his first bubble game with 16 points, 11 boards and 7 assists. It really says a lot about you as a player if that’s a tough outing for you.
The 17-year NBA vet showed some obvious rust in the first three quarters. James opted to serve as playmaker early on, but simply couldn’t get his shots to fall. James finished 6-for-19 (31.6%) from the field and hit just two of his seven threes.
He struggled to shake Kawhi Leonard on the dribble. This isn’t much of a surprise, as James has a history of struggling to drive against Leonard, but despite early success James was uncharacteristically sloppy, leading to five turnovers.
It’s a testament to the Lakers depth that they stayed in the game despite James not living up to his scoring potential, but as he tends to do, he turned it on when he was needed the most.
After a Paul George three tied the game at 101 with 28 ticks left on the clock, James put the crown back on.
He picked up his own rebound and tossed in a go-ahead lay-up, and clamped George up on the other end, forcing a low-percentage three-point heave at the buzzer.
“I love having the ball in my hands late in the game, tie game, being down, being up,” James said. “We had a three-point game with like 40 seconds to go; we had a great look for Danny [Green], he missed it — Paul George came back and hit a 3 to tie the game. For me, just try to be aggressive. I felt like I got some contact at the elbow by Marcus Morris Sr.; they didn’t call it. But like it was told to me as a kid since I started playing basketball, there’s no whistle, you keep playing on. So I was able to follow my own shot and put us up, and put us up for good.”
The complete body of work from LeBron wasn’t to his Godly standards on Thursday. But as you can tell from the final score and his superb play in clutch situations, it was enough. And that’s the peace of mind you get when LeBron plays for your basketball team, he’s always going to play well enough for you to win, it just depends on the other guys.
Speaking of which…