LOS ANGELES (AP)—The final seconds ticked away, with the Los Angeles Lakers needing a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.
That shot was never even attempted.
LeBron James won his personal matchup with Kobe Bryant in a duel of the NBA’s leading scorers, tallying 14 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter, and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Los Angeles 98-95 Sunday for their fifth straight win over the Lakers.
After James’ two free throws with nine seconds to play gave Cleveland a three-point lead, the Lakers took a timeout to formulate strategy. The Cavaliers, of course, focused their defense on Bryant.
“That’s really what you want. You want to not allow Kobe to get a clean look from the start of the play, make those guys make a couple passes, which we did, and not let them get a clean look,” Cleveland’s Larry Hughes said. “Nobody wanted to shoot it.”
Luke Walton appeared to be the player who should have fired away.
“Has to, he’s the open guy,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before quickly adding: “The game wasn’t lost on that sequence.”
Walton, who had scored only 17 points in the Lakers’ previous five games, shooting 6-for-20, shouldered the blame.
“We ran our last-second play, I was hoping to get the shot off,” said Walton, who shot 4-for-8 for nine points and also had five rebounds, five assists and four steals. “I kind of fumbled the ball a little bit, wasn’t aware the clock was as low as it was, and as soon as I passed it back to Kobe, I realized that that was a mistake, and unfortunately it cost us big.”
Bryant scored nine of his 33 points in the final period, and also had 12 rebounds and six assists, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep the Lakers from losing their third straight to match their longest losing streak of the season.
“It was designed for me to come up from the top of the floor and get a good look at a 3,” Bryant said regarding the last play. “We had to run a dribble weave in that situation and they both came with me, so I kicked it out. I don’t know if he had a clear look at the basket. I think they rotated to him pretty quickly. There’s always other options.”
The Cavaliers took a 94-93 lead on a basket by James with 1:16 remaining, and Bryant drew an offensive foul nine seconds later.
After an empty possession by each team, James ran the shot clock down before hitting from outside with 20 seconds to go, giving the Cavaliers a three-point lead.
Ronny Turiaf made a follow shot with 13 seconds left, trimming Cleveland’s lead to one point, setting the stage for James’ last points and the final sequence.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 16 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 6:14 to play, and Hughes also scored 16 points for the Cavaliers (24-19), who won for the 12th time in 15 games.
Lamar Odom had 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists for the Lakers (27-15), who have a 2-4 record since center Andrew Bynum injured his left knee. It was their fourth game without Trevor Ariza, who broke his right foot. Neither player is expected to return before the middle of March.
The game was delayed for 12 minutes late in the first quarter because of a small leak in the Staples Center roof. It resulted in a steady flow of drops falling under the north basket—out of bounds but less than a foot from the baseline.
Arena spokesman Michael Roth said a roofing company inspected the roof Sunday morning and when the inspectors were finished, they removed their rain gear and left it along with some equipment on a catwalk over the north basket. The leak came from the clothing and equipment through slats in the catwalk.
“It helped me for the second half,” James said. “I was able to get a long rest. I didn’t come out in the second half because of that.”
Regarding the final nine seconds, James said: “For them to not even get a shot off, that’s what it’s been about for us lately. We’ve been extremely conscious of playing defense the right way. We thought that Kobe was going to take the shot, of course. We just tried to get a hand up, contain them.”
James also had nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Lakers used a 23-9 run to finish the third quarter and begin the fourth for an 84-75 lead. The Cavaliers responded with a 15-2 spurt of their own to take a four-point lead. Neither team led by more than four points after that.
Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao was helped from the court with 3:12 left in the third quarter with an injured left ankle. After James made a layup, Varejao stepped on the foot of Lakers G Sasha Vujacic as he entered the lane, trailing the play. X-rays were negative, and the team said Varejao was expected to undergo an MRI on Monday. … Lakers F Vladimir Radmanovic returned to action after sitting out 11 games because of a sprained right ankle. He went scoreless while playing nearly five minutes in the second quarter. … James passed Mark Price (9,543 points in 582 games) for third place on the Cavaliers’ career scoring list. James has 9,577 points in 354 games. … James scored 33 points to Bryant’s 21 in the Cavaliers’ 94-90 victory over the Lakers in Cleveland last month. … After entertaining the New York Knicks on Tuesday, the Lakers begin a nine-game road trip in Detroit two nights later.