LeBron James vs. Indiana
LeBron James dunks against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 29, 2018.
(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)

LeBron's 38 Points, Team Defense Vault Lakers Past Pacers

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

A once-24-point lead had evaporated down to just one with five minutes left. Enter the world’s greatest player.

LeBron James was in closer mode on Thursday night, scoring or assisting on all of the Lakers’ final 15 points, as they skated past Indiana, 104-96.

James was a one-man force, dropping 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. And while he took over the final five minutes, he felt that he struck a good balance between seizing the game and allowing his teammates to take the reins.

“That’s the challenge … that I’ve kinda been battling with since the season started,” James said. “How much do I defer to some of our young guys to try to [let them] figure it out? How much do I try to take over games? I think tonight was one of those instances where they looked at me and they wanted me to close the game.”

James and his teammates were scorching from the start, ending the first quarter with a 23-point lead — the largest by the Lakers in the opening period since 2004. The defense was particularly impressive, as Indiana shot just 5-of-25 from the field in that frame.

But the Pacers (13-9) came roaring back, even taking a three-point lead midway though the third quarter. But the Lakers (12-9) settled down from there, responding with an 11-2 run capped by a triple from Josh Hart (an indirect result of James’ playmaking).

“We just focused on getting stops and converting on the offensive end and executing,” Hart said. “That was the main focus. Nobody was panicking.”

Hart was reliable throughout the night, scoring 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Despite being hampered by a recent ankle sprain, he was excellent defensively, snagging three steals and shadowing Doug McDermott throughout a conveyer belt of screens.

“Man, I told [McDermott] to stay in the corner, and then he did not do it,” Hart said. “… Definitely gave me confidence running around with him. It felt good. Was definitely a good test [of the ankle].”

The teams traded blows from there, with Indiana chipping the Lakers’ lead down to 89-88 with less than five minutes remaining. Then it was LeBron’s time to put the game away.

The Lakers finished on a 15-6 run, with James providing 12 points and assisting on a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 3-pointer.

LeBron began his personal onslaught with a triple, punishing the Pacers for going under on a screen. He then went to work inside the arc, adding a spinning, and-1 layup and a couple tough mid-range buckets.

“He knows when those times are and he’s good at that,” coach Luke Walton said. “… Fourth quarter time, he did his thing. But we’re continuing to grow to where it’s not just him all the time.”

While James was the unquestioned leader of the victory, it took a roster-wide effort to keep Indiana from completing its unlikely comeback.

The Lakers held the Pacers to 37.2 percent shooting from the field. Kyle Kuzma, Tyson Chandler, Lonzo Ball and JaVale McGee all had at least eight rebounds.

“Josh Hart gave us an incredible spark off the bench and LeBron was spectacular,” Walton said, “but we got a lot of really good efforts from different people, and that’s what it takes to win in this league.”

Walton and Spectrum SportsNet’s broadcast team honored the memory of the late Craig Sager by wearing ostentatious suit jackets. … Domantas Sabonis led the Pacers with 20 points and 15 rebounds. … The Lakers outscored Indiana in the paint, 58-38. … Miguel, Kate Beckinsale and Andy Garcia were among the sold-out crowd.

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