LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers showed some rust.
They knocked it off with time to spare.
Anthony Davis scored 34 points, James had the go-ahead basket with 12.8 seconds left and the Lakers moved closer to clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs by topping the Los Angeles Clippers 103-101 on Thursday night in the second game of the NBA’s re-opening doubleheader.
James had 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists to help the Lakers move 6 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers in the West with seven games remaining. Kyle Kuzma added 16 points.
“It felt like a real game to me, two teams battling. … Can’t complain for the first game,” Davis said.
Paul George had 30 points and Kawhi Leonard scored 28 for the Clippers, who had an 11-point lead midway through the third in a game with deep ebbs and flows. The Clippers got that lead after a 26-5 run; the Lakers immediately rebutted with a 36-14 run to reclaim control.
And it still came down to the final moments.
George’s 3-pointer with 1:50 left cut the Lakers’ lead to 99-98. James muscled his way to a layup on the next possession, and then George hit another 3 to tie the game at 101 with 29 seconds remaining.
James followed his own miss down the lane for the go-ahead basket, then was brilliant on the last defensive possession — forcing the ball out of Leonard’s hands and covering George as his 3-point try at the buzzer misfired.
“We can’t have self-inflicted wounds and I thought we had too many of them,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whose team — which remains short-handed with Lou Williams still in quarantine and Montrezl Harrell tending to a family matter — gave up 29 points off turnovers.
Thursday marked the NBA’s first game action in 141 days, the league getting back to work after the coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown.
During the pandemic, a renewed discussion about racial injustice happened in this country — the conversation that surrounds this NBA restart. The courts have “Black Lives Matter” on them, and the Lakers and Clippers knelt together during the national anthem in a silent protest to demand equality. New Orleans and Utah did the same in the night’s opener.
James — who is going to win his first assist title — had five in the first quarter to get teammates going, and then his first basket of the restart came on a dunk early in the second quarter to put the Lakers up 37-24.
But for a stretch that basically spanned a full quarter, spanning the second and third periods, the Lakers couldn’t make a shot. They went 1 for 10 to end the half, then 0 for 9 to start the third and the Clippers took advantage.
They turned a 50-40 deficit into a 66-55 edge in the third. And then it was the Lakers’ turn to rally, slicing the Clippers’ lead to 77-76 going into the fourth.
“It was a good game,” Leonard said. “Still had fun out there. It was great to be back on the floor.”
Clippers: The Clippers had won 11 of their last 12 games in the state of Florida. In both of those losses, Dion Waiters played for the winning side — the first being a game in Miami. … Leonard was charged with two offensive fouls in the first quarter, the first time in his career that happened.
Lakers: The Lakers got to the 50-win mark for the 33rd time in franchise history, and this is the 12th time that James has helped a team get to that many wins in his 17 seasons. … James’ 3-pointer with 8:30 left extended his NBA record of consecutive regular-season games with at least 10 points to 989.
NBA players are permitted to attend games in the bubble as fans — with their seats 6 feet apart to satisfy social distancing rules. Among those who attended: Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.
Clippers: New Orleans on Saturday.
Lakers: Toronto on Saturday.