LeBron James went absolutely ballistic in overtime against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday day night to give the Lakers a much-needed 124-116 victory — and boost to their collective momentum and morale — heading into Thanksgiving, but according to the NBA, he probably shouldn’t have had a chance to.
In a call that very well may have changed the course of the season for the Lakers, the NBA’s last two minutes report on Thursday said that starting shooting guard Avery Bradley should have been called for a foul on Pacers rookie Chris Duarte’s game-tying three, which would have given him a free throw with just over seven seconds remaining. Duarte himself said on Wednesday that he thought it was a foul, “but they don’t call fouls on rookies I guess.”
Now he’s been vindicated by the league, and while maybe he would have missed the free throw, or maybe the Lakers would have taken a different shot than James’ heave at the buzzer and won the game in regulation in the final seconds, but it’s hard not to agree with Dan Woike of the L.A. Times’ conclusion:
The NBA says Avery Bradley fouled Chris Duarte on the rookie’s game-tying basket. The Lakers were just a whistle (and a FT) away from a 1-4 roadie pic.twitter.com/ZHOfN1Fk4F— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) November 25, 2021
So... I guess this is just a hearty “Happy Thanksgiving!” from the league office to Lakers supporters everywhere, and especially Frank Vogel, who probably had his life flash before his eyes reading that tweet. What a difference one call can make.
But while he didn’t get the And-1, the chutzpah it took for the rookie to hit that ridiculous, leaning three over a tough (and, ultimately, illegal) contest from Bradley was more than enough for the rookie to impress LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
“He’s a rookie in the sense of he just got drafted, but the kid is obviously beyond his years just in his experience,” James — something of an expert on ballsy shots — said of Duarte, who scored 17 points off the bench on Wednesday.
“He’s a hell of a player. He’s gonna be a big-time scorer in this league, and that was a tough shot he hit,” Westbrook added. “I’m very impressed with how he was able to shot make, and he made some big shots.”
Chris Duarte has now gotten public praise from LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and Duarte said in his post game media tonight that Melo gave him praise after the game.— Tony East (@TEastNBA) November 25, 2021
He’s got a bright future. What a player he is already.
James also seemed to confirm pre-draft rumors that the Lakers were interested in Duarte with the first-round pick they ultimately dealt to the Wizards in the Westbrook trade.
“We had the 22 pick this year in the draft and we worked him out this year at our facility, and he didn’t miss a shot. And I was like ‘no way in hell we getting this kid,’” James said with a laugh. “He’s big time. Very poised. Great shot... Indy got a good one.”
That “good one” might have had one more highlight to give Pacers fans during an already impressive rookie season, but he’ll have to just settle for impressing some of his idols in a loss this time.