The Los Angeles Lakers got their first taste of life without LeBron James on Thursday and while it started off sweet, it ultimately left a sour taste in their mouths.
After leading by as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter, the Lakers’ came to a complete standstill and the Sacramento Kings were able to get close enough to have the game be decided by a gut-wrenching buzzer-beating 3-pointer. While these types of meltdowns are nothing new to fans that have watched the Lakers over the past few years, it’s happened far less often since they signed a superstar closer in James.
Following the game, head coach Luke Walton admitted that James probably would have been the difference between a win and a loss for the Lakers, but he thought they should have won without him (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“With him being hurt, this is the first close game we’ve been in where he’s not there. If LeBron James plays in that game, it probably finishes a little differently, but that’s what we have to get. That’s what our guys were doing last year, but when you get the closer in the game on your team, you rely on him to do that.”
“All that said, we made enough plays to win, we just didn’t take care of little things, which has nothing to do with being a closer — it’s rebounding, it’s getting back in transition defense. Those type of the things that cost us the game, not the fact that we didn’t have him at the end or that shot Bogdanovic hit.”
That same logic can be applied to those blaming the loss on the fact that Brandon Ingram missed the free throw that would have put the Lakers up by three points.
Should Ingram have made that free throw? Yes! Everyone should make their free throws! They’re called “free” throws for a reason! But if anyone is going to pin the blame on Ingram for that loss — which they shouldn’t — it should be because of the plays he made prior to missing that free throw.
The Lakers didn’t lose a game by one-point because of one play, or because they didn’t have James to close out the game for them — they lost because they turned away from earned them their big lead. It’s not until everyone in the locker room understands that will they be able to move on and learn from their tough loss.