LeBron James did it again. After 18 seasons of greatness you'd think we'd stop being surprised when he does something spectacular, but no, every time it feels like the first. The Los Angeles Lakers looked dead in the water midway through their play-in game matchup with the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night. Then James did what he does more often than not: put a team on his back and carry them to victory.
LA trailed the Warriors by 13 at the half and 12 with 5:07 left in the third quarter. Anthony Davis, Dennis Schroder and James struggled early in the game as the Lakers looked like a slow, tired squad. But when winning time came, James woke up and carried his team to a huge comeback, securing a 103-100 win and the right to face the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs.
James and Davis combined to make 3 of 19 field goals in the first half. In the second they hit 14 of 22. While Davis led the Lakers with 25 points, it was LeBron who turned things around and made the biggest plays. He finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, notching his fifth triple-double of the season and adding two steals and a block to his line. James led the charge on both ends, captaining a suffocating defensive effort that held Golden State to 45 points in the second half and only 21 in the final quarter. Most importantly, when it came down to making big plays late, he stepped up.
With the game tied at 100 with 58.2 seconds left, a broken play saw the ball wind up in LeBron's hands. He was standing in the middle of of the Staples Center logo about 35-feet from the basket and launched an off-balance heave as the shot clock expired. He's LeBron James, so of course it went in and gave the Lakers their final advantage. The shot is below.
The best part of this sequence was the puzzled look on Stephen Curry's face as he stared at James. It's as if he's thinking to himself, "So that's what that feels like."
Bear in mind, this wasn't long after Draymond Green fouled James on a drive and poked him in the eye. After the game LeBron told Rachel Nichols he was seeing three rims and decided to aim for the middle one.
That's what James does time after time. He steps up in huge moments, changes momentum and finds ways to win. The Lakers were down and out with a few minutes left in the third quarter playing against a Warriors team that had won eight of its last nine games. LA is banged up, the team's stars have barely played together this season and James has a bum ankle. It doesn't matter. He's LeBron James and this is what he does.
The Lakers will move on to face the Suns, starting on Sunday. There's a reason they're heavily favored to beat Chris Paul and the Western Conference's second-best team in the series and it's not due to the presence of Anthony Davis, the team's outstanding defense or the franchise's storied history. It's all because of James.
As long as LeBron is on the floor the Lakers will be favored to escape the West. And it'll be a disappointment if they don't. That's the insane legacy James has built. It's a disappointment when he doesn't lift his team -- often kicking and screaming -- to the NBA Finals. It's truly remarkable and is something we're not likely to see again.