There’s chatter about LeBron James challenging favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo for NBA MVP.
Meanwhile, there’s a real battle on the Los Angeles Lakers for who deserves the honors for the team. It was on full display Thursday in a thrilling 103-101 Lakers win over the Los Angeles Clippers in their bubble debut.
Anthony Davis looked every bit the part for much of the game before James closed the victory with a game-winner in traffic.
Davis leads Lakers’ 3rd-quarter rally
Davis dominated the scoreboard and sizzled in a third-quarter rally that lifted the Lakers ahead of their crosstown rivals in what very well could be a Western Conference Finals preview.
His back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third quarter punctuated a 17-5 run that gave the Lakers a 72-71 lead and stopped the bleeding of what started out as a dominant Clippers stanza.
After the Lakers led the entire first half, Clippers forward Paul George went on a personal 9-1 run with three straight 3-pointers to start the quarter. Before the Lakers would score their first field goal of the quarter, the Clippers had gone on a 14-1 run to take a 66-55 lead.
But Davis willed the Lakers back to a 77-76 lead by the end of the quarter that the Lakers translated into victory. The best defense one of the league’s premier defensive teams had for Davis was repeatedly fouling him in the paint. Davis made them pay with a 16-for-17 performance at the line.
LeBron comes up big in crunch time
But James, who filled up the box score as he regularly does, was not to be outdone. He scored two of the biggest buckets of the game with a layup in bruising traffic in the final minutes that extended the Lakers lead to 101-98 and a putback layup that secured the Lakers victory with 12.8 seconds remaining.
In the end, Davis finished with 34 points, eight rebounds and four assists. James struggled from the field, hitting 6-of-19 shots. But he connected when the stakes were highest and tallied 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
With Davis’ performance, he and James have now each recorded 20 30-point performances this season, marking the first time a Lakers duo has done so since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the 2002-03 season.
George’s heroics not enough
George threatened to steal the victory for the shorthanded Clippers, who started bubble play without Montezl Harrell and Lou Williams, neither of whom has yet been cleared to play. He sank another 3-pointer with 28.4 seconds remaining to tie the game at 101-101.
But after James put the Lakers up on the other end, George’s final heave from beyond the arc didn’t connect. George finished with 30 points, five rebounds and three steals while hitting 6-of-11 3-pointers. Kawhi Leonard tallied 28 points, four assists, two steals and two blocks.
It was the final meeting of the regular season for the rivals, who would start the playoffs as the top two seeds in the West if the postseason started today. The Lakers have a stranglehold on the top seed, extending their lead over the Clippers to 6.5 games with seven games remaining, while the Clippers’ lead over over the third-place Denver Nuggets now stands at one game.
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