LeBron James’s Historic Comeback Shows He’s Still the Lakers’ Strongest Weapon

The 39-year-old helped evaporate a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to lift his team to victory over the Clippers, serving as a reminder of what James is capable of when hot.

LOS ANGELES – Two decades into one of the most decorated careers in NBA history and there is little LeBron James has not accomplished. MVPs, Finals MVPs and other hardware pack his trophy case, pages of league records have his name etched on them. Yet on Wednesday, as James walked off the Crypto.com Arena floor, he did it having achieved something he had never done before: erase a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit and lead his team to a win.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James.

Facing a rival, in the 97th—and final—regular season game between the co-tenants of Los Angeles’s downtown arena, James was brilliant. The final stat line: 34 points, six rebounds and eight assists, but that only tells part of the story. James connected on 61.9% of his field goals and 58.3% of his threes. The Los Angeles Clippers were 31–1 this season when entering the fourth quarter with a lead. James’s 19 points in the final 12 minutes sent them home 31–2 after a 116–112 Lakers win.

“The game is not over until it’s double zeros,” said James.

Indeed. There is no question who is the better of the two L.A. teams this season, and if a championship is won at Crypto it will likely be the Clippers—who will move into a new home near the airport next season—who win it. The Clippers are loaded, the James Harden deal has exceeded expectations and even when banged up—two starters, Paul George and Ivica Zubac, were out Wednesday—had enough firepower to build a seemingly insurmountable lead.

The Lakers, though, had James, who, months shy of his 40th birthday, reminded a national audience that whenever he dials it up he remains the best player on the floor. “Sicko mode” is how Anthony Davis described James’s performance, and the Clippers would agree. There was nothing complex about the offense that the Lakers ran in the fourth. It was screen, isolate and let James go to work. He knocked down five three-pointers in the final quarter, stepping back and flinging jumpers over Terance Mann, Daniel Theis, Norman Powell and whoever else the Clippers put in front of him.

“It’s just a zone, and you can’t really describe it,” James said. “You wish you could stay in it forever, but obviously it checks out once the game ends. But during it, you don’t feel anything. It’s just like a superpower feel.”

No one knows that superpower better than Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, who watched James harness it in 2016, lifting the Lue-led Cleveland Cavaliers to its first championship. Before the game, Lue warned his players: Don’t turn the ball over against this team. The Clippers coughed the ball up seven times in the fourth quarter, springing the Lakers offense.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened in my career since I’ve been coaching, to lose a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter,” Lue said. “But LeBron got hot.”

The win didn’t shake up the conference landscape. The Lakers will still likely have to fight through a play-in tournament to get into the playoffs while the Clippers will probably open the postseason on its home floor. The inconsistency is still there. After winning six of seven entering the All-Star break, the Lakers split their first four games coming out of it. But they are slowly taking players off the injury report—Cam Reddish, out since late January, made his return Wednesday—and there is still plenty of season to go.

And they have LeBron. The NBA’s oldest active player served yet another reminder Wednesday that he is still among its best. Even when faced with an MVP candidate like Kawhi Leonard, who missed a game-tying jumper with James in his face, James can still be the most dominant player on the floor. After the game, Davis marveled at what it was like to sit on the bench and watch James go to work. For James, it was just what he had to do to get a win.

“If I’m in a lineup, if I’m on the floor, I got to make plays,” James said. “Sometimes I got to make even more plays. And tonight was one of those moments where I had to make even more plays in order for us to even get back into the game and then ultimately win the game.”

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