(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)
LeBron Closes Out Blazers in Final 3 Minutes
In five minutes, a colossal 20-point lead had evaporated into just a six-point cushion.
With three minutes remaining and momentum fully on the side of the hosting Trail Blazers, L.A. turned to the league’s best player.
LeBron James delivered in crunch time, steadying the ship so the Lakers finished on top, 114-110, ending a streak of 16 consecutive losses to the Blazers.
It began simply enough, as James grabbed a defensive rebound, brought the ball up the court and hit Josh Hart for a layup. Then he began taking matters into his own hands.
After Portland’s rebuttal, LeBron had Rajon Rondo come and set him a screen. Most point guards have little experience guarding the screener in pick-and-rolls, so James and Rondo essentially targeted Damian Lillard, who was unable to provide any assistance once LeBron began his drive.
Even center Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t rotate over in time, as James threw down a monster slam.
After the Blazers answered, the Lakers once again went at Lillard by having Rondo set another pick for LeBron.
Rondo slowed down James’ defender, Al-Farouq Aminu, with the screen, and Lillard’s steal attempt was fruitless.
Perhaps concerned with fouling, Nurkic again made little attempt to stop James at the rim, where the ambidextrous finisher hit a lefty layup.
But Portland scored again, bringing the lead back down to six. After a traveling violation cost the Lakers a valuable possession, it was time for James to make a play on the defensive side.
JaVale McGee — provider of six critical blocks on the night — swatted a dunk attempt from Lillard, but the ball bounced right to Nurkic lurking in the restricted area.
Fortunately for the team in gold, LeBron was in the same neighborhood and rejected Nurkic’s put-back attempt.
Nurkic did hit a free throw soon after to make it a five-point game and James made his lone crunch-time error by missing a deep, heat-check 3-pointer he practically shot from Mount Hood.
But McGee saved the possession with an offensive rebound, and James rewarded him soon after.
With 28.0 seconds remaining, LeBron drove to the hoop, drew the defense’s attention and — at the last second mid-air — dropped the ball off to McGee, who had snuck down the baseline for an over-the-head finish.
The Blazers gave themselves a ghost of a chance by cutting their deficit to four with 10 seconds left, but James put an end to that by hitting a pair of free throws.
James had six points, two assists and a block in those last three minutes, scoring or assisting on 10 of the Lakers’ final 11 points.
It was a fitting end to James’ personal streak of six straight losses in Portland, as he dropped 28 points and seven dimes for his first road win against the Blazers since his days with the Miami Heat back in 2012.