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Russell Westbrook’s ‘big-time’ shot a moment of release for Lakers in tough season

One of the more improbable wins of the season came after one of the most unlikeliest Lakers in Russell Westbrook hit the biggest shot of the night, offering a moment of catharsis in Toronto.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Oftentimes, good fortune comes to those who work hard to find themselves in a position of benefit. The Lakers have been on all sorts of bad breaks this season, but have also done very little to earn that good fortune, especially in the latter stages on the season.

It’s not a coincidence, then, that one of the first bits of good fortune for the Lakers came on a night when they worked hard for 48 — technically 53 — minutes for one of the first times in months. Westbrook’s remarkable game-tying shot in the final seconds of regulation capped off a back-and-forth fourth-quarter before the Lakers made enough plays in overtime for the victory against the Raptors.

It wasn’t only good fortune or luck that led to Russell Westbrook redeeming himself in a matter of seconds on Friday. It also was faith from Westbrook in himself, the result of a team continuing to empower him and, yes, some good fortune as well.

“You have to get some breaks along the way,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “This has been one of those seasons where we just have not gotten any. In fact, it seems snake-bitten in a lot of ways where other teams are getting breaks. That was just a competitive spirit play for us to get that turnover and hit that big shot.

“I’m super happy for him. He’s obviously dealt with a lot, more than most of us with the season in terms of criticism and whatnot. He’s handled it well and he’s staying in the fight and staying together with his teammates.”

Westbrook’s cursed season looked to have added another lowlight when his 3-pointer with 12 seconds left that could have tied the game hit the side of the backboard. Before the social media accounts could even record the video of the shot, the Lakers had forced a turnover before Westbrook stunned everyone, Drake included, by tying the game with 0.9 seconds left.

“Throughout this whole process,” Westbrook said, “throughout the year, ups and downs, the good and the bad, I lean so much on my faith and it’s very important that I stay faithful and truthful to that because, eventually, it’ll all work out. Nights like tonight is the reason why I stay true to my faith and thankful to be able to just go out and be able to play and allow my talents and gifts that I was given to be shown on the basketball floor.”

The shot still featured a whole lot of skill from Westbrook even for all the good fortune. What initially looked like a two-pointer with his foot on the line in real-time was revealed as a bit of “big-time IQ” and a “big-time shot by a big-time player,” as LeBron James called it, as he quickly and deliberately slid his foot behind the 3-point line to ensure it was a game-tying make.

“I looked very quickly but I wanted to make sure I was behind it at least just so that I could get my foot back to shoot,” Westbrook said. “I just missed one before. But, to me, the steal was probably the most important play. Just trap them in the corner and not foul, make them turn the ball over and get a steal. And then try to get to some space, get my hands free to shoot and move my foot back at the last possible second to make sure that it was a three ball.”

The Lakers haven’t had many moments this season like Friday’s. Amidst the injuries, the underperforming and the turmoil, fun has not been an adjective to describe much of the Lakers season. Basketball is a game and moments of fun are important for any team.

Friday’s moment of fun came with a Lakers team that has rallied around Westbrook amidst his battle with fans this season. And while that shot does not absolve all of Westbrook’s faults this season, it’s still a memorable highlight for all those associated with the team from Westbrook to the players to the staff and to the fans.

A bit of good fortune, a bit of skill, a bit of big-time IQ and a bit of fun for the Lakers.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.