LOS ANGELES — Moments after committing a crucial mental mistake, Ryan Kelly flew through the STAPLES Center air to lift his team to victory.
With 7.8 seconds left, Kelly tried to inbound the ball to D’Angelo Russell, but instead found the waiting arms of Portland’s Phil Pressey, who whipped the ball over to Pat Connaughton for the game-tying 3-pointer.
After a Lakers timeout, Kelly caught the ensuing inbounds pass and gave a brief fake handoff to Jabari Brown. Kelly’s man, Omari Johnson, bit on the false transfer, leaving Kelly to attack the unoccupied paint. Noah Vonleh scrambled over to challenge Kelly at the rim, but the third-year Laker simply rose above him and hammered a one-handed slam dunk with 2.0 seconds remaining.
“It wasn’t exactly how (Byron Scott) drew it up, but I just read it a little bit, and I knew they were going to switch,” Kelly said. “(I) attacked the basket. And at that point in a game, you’ve got to either finish over the top or have the defender make a great play.”
Vonleh’s responding 20-foot buzzer-beater was off the mark, as the Lakers pulled out a 104-102 victory.
Prior to Kelly’s liftoff, a last-minute collapse by the purple and gold had both teams thinking overtime. The Lakers led by five with 17.5 seconds left but allowed Chris Kaman to convert a Vonleh miss into an offensive rebound and layup, then Kelly’s errant pass led to Connaughton’s 27-foot triple.
“The big thing for me was I had made the mistake on the out-of-bounds play,” Kelly said. “I should’ve called a timeout, and we shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place. So I wanted to make up for it and make the play that made a difference.”
Neither team could establish dominance in a game that featured eight lead changes and six ties.
Per usual, Damian Lillard was nigh uncoverable against the Lakers as he poured in 20 points and six assists in 24 minutes, while Maurice Harkless added 15 points of his own to lead Portland’s 50-34 scoring advantage in the paint.
Nonetheless, the Lakers answered by hitting 44.7 percent from the field, led by 17 points on a 6-of-9 night from Jordan Clarkson, who relished the opportunity to duel Lillard.
“At the end of the day, it’s a personal battle,” said Clarkson, who added four rebounds and three assists. “If he’s going at me, you know I’m gonna attack him as well. And then on the defensive end I’m gonna try to stop him from what he likes to do.”
Russell struggled through the first quarter, but the second-overall pick stepped up down the stretch, as he poured in eight points (3-of-3) in the final five minutes to bump his scoring total to 12 for the night.
It was an odd mix in the passing department as Russell went without an assist, while power forward Julius Randle collected four on a night when he finished with two points and zero baskets. Backup point guard Marcelo Huertas impressed for the second-straight contest, pitching in eight points to match his game-high eight assists.
“I was just trying to make appropriate plays,” Randle said. “The ball was a little stagnant, so I was just trying to hit open guys, rebound and score when I had the chance.”
Holmes Dislocates Shoulder
A gritty hustle play turned into an unfortunate stroke of luck for forward Jonathan Holmes, who dislocated his right shoulder after playing just one minute Monday.
Holmes, who had played 15 minutes in the previous seven preseason games combined, created a steal and then dove for the loose ball, which led to a basket for LA. But in doing so, he landed awkwardly on his right arm. Nonetheless, he kept the play alive by pushing the ball forward with that arm.
Davis Returns to STAPLES
Blazers big man Ed Davis played his first game in Los Angeles since leading the Lakers in blocks (1.2) during his lone year with the team last season.
The five-year pro finished with five points in 16 minutes.
“He’s a guy who just knows his niche in the league,” Portland head coach Terry Stotts said. “He knows what he does well. He has a presence defensively. He has a knack around the basket offensively. I think he finds ways to complement his teammates.”