A late Avery Bradley 3-pointer gave the Lakers a lead they would not relinquish, capping off one of the most improbable wins of the season in Toronto, 128-123.
Clutch plays from LeBron James and Russell Westbrook in the final minutes of regulation were the only reason the Lakers were able to get to the extra session as the pair carried the Lakers to their first road win since Jan. 25 in Brooklyn.
James led all scorers with 36 points on 15-26 shooting from the field and 2-7 shooting from the 3-point line while adding nine points and seven rebounds. Westbrook tallied 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, including setting up Bradley for the go-ahead 3-pointer.
A mad fourth quarter saw the two teams trade haymakers in the closing minutes with LeBron James answering each punch thrown by Toronto, including a pair of monster 3-pointers. Eventually, it looked like Toronto’s barrage of big baskets, punctuated by a 3-pointer from Gary Trent Jr. to put the hosts up 116-113 with 26.1 seconds, was too much for LeBron and the Lakers to answer.
But a late turnover by the Raptors gave way to the most improbable of people tying the game with 0.4 seconds left as Russell Westbrook hit a pull-up 3-pointer, forcing overtime.
For the first time since the All-Star break, it didn’t take a LeBron James 50-point performance for the Lakers to be competitive from start to finish. That isn’t to say LeBron didn’t have quite the say in the game as he started to really have his way in the fourth quarter after a relatively quiet opening three periods.
This LeBron sequence.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 19, 2022
Year 19 pic.twitter.com/oCfWJFfUyy
In the closing minutes, it was James who buried a pair of 3-pointers, one banked in while falling out-of-bounds and the other from well beyond the 3-point line, to match Toronto shot for shot down the stretch.
It was a variety of players that helped the Lakers get to the fourth quarter on level pegging, Wenyen Gabriel finished with 17 points, 14 of those coming in the first quarter, and had the game-sealing block in the final seconds of overtime. Malik Monk, Austin Reaves, DJ Augustin and Avery Bradley all contributed on the perimeter combining for ten 3-pointers.
There was no significant X’s and O’s change made by head coach Frank Vogel in the game between the two teams. The difference in the team that lost by 11 and trailed 21-2 to this same Raptors team was a level of effort and care by the Lakers.
Too often since the All-Star break, the Lakers have come out looking uninterested in playing basketball games and building double-digit first-half deficits out of the gate before dragging their feet to a loss. On Friday, they flew out of the gates behind an unlikely source.
Gabriel’s inclusion in the starting lineup marked just the second start of his career — ironically the first came his rookie season against the Lakers — and he took full advantage of it, knocking down a 3-pointer to open the game, scoring 10 points in the opening three minutes and 14 in the first quarter.
The negative was foul trouble limited him to just eight minutes in the first half but the positive was his quick start from the arc set a ton on the night. After coming into the night 1-33 from the 3-point line in their last five first quarters, the Lakers shot 5-10 from range in the opening frame against Toronto.
Perhaps those made shots early helped spark some belief in the Lakers on the night. Perhaps their effort level shouldn’t be determined on whether shots go in or not but whatever the reason, the Lakers gave a damn on Friday and effort covers up mistakes.
Even when the Raptors stormed back in the first quarter and second quarters when the Lakers built double-digit leads to take leads of their own, the Lakers didn’t give up as they had so many times this season. Instead, in each scenario, they eventually answered a Toronto run with one of their own to take the lead.
Should we be crediting this team for simply giving a damn? No. This team is too talented for the bar to be this low. In some ways, Friday’s game is annoying as it shows the Lakers can play at a high level when they give a damn. But that hasn’t consistently been the case this season and the bar has to be set somewhere, even if it’s on the floor.
Unfortunately, if we’ve learned anything about this Lakers team, it’s that they won’t build on a big win or a positive performance and it’s foolish to think otherwise until they actually show they can.
In another rematch of a recent foe, the Lakers will travel to Washington for the second night of a back-to-back against the Wizards. Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 5 p.m. PT and will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet