In what was an extremely well-played and high level game between two focused teams, the Lakers were able to outlast the Bucks 133-129 to earn their signature win of the season to date.
In a game of multiple standout performances, none were more impressive than Anthony Davis'. If there was any question about whether his recent run of superb play could carry over against a team with as imposing and defensively dominant front court as Milwaukee's, AD put those to bed with an absolutely dominant display, scoring 44 points on 18-27 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.
Due to Milwaukee's ability to protect the paint, Davis began the game shooting -- and making -- his jump shot, forcing the defense to respect him as a scorer from every spot on the floor. AD then leveraged that defensive attention to create shots going downhill and into the paint, scoring with short runners, hooks, and powerful dunks both off the dribble and via passes from his teammates. AD flashed a wonderful combination of poise, skill, determination, and forcefulness to absolutely take it to the NBA's #1 ranked defense while also offering an imposing presence defensively.
Not to be outdone, LeBron James was similarly tremendous as both a scorer and playmaker. On the night he passed Magic Johnson for 6th on the all-time assists list, LeBron notched a double-double with 28 points and 11 assists (along with zero turnovers). LeBron kept the defense guessing all night, picking his spots exceptionally well to control possessions as much with his mind as he did with his skill and shot making ability.
Of particular importance was how LeBron performed down the stretch, where he hit three pointers on back-to-back possessions with just under four minutes to play -- one to take the lead back and the next to give the Lakers just a bit more breathing room heading into the closing minutes. In that moment the Bucks seemed ready to wrestle control of the game away from the Lakers, but the combination of AD's presence and LeBron's shotmaking fended them off.
Of course, even with Bron and AD playing to the level that they did, the Lakers do not win this game with out Russell Westbrook's performance. Russ recorded a double-double of his own, scoring 15 points (6-11 shooting), to go along with 7 rebounds and 11 assists, with zero turnovers. Russ was able to impact the tenor of the game from the first moment he came in off the bench, tallying five assists on the first five possessions he played, zipping the ball to teammates out of the pick-and-roll, on cuts, and in transition.
And then, down the stretch, Russ had what was the play of the game, racing after a loose ball and diving to keep the ball away from Khris Middleton so LeBron could recover it and ultimately dish the ball to AD for a dunk. That basket didn't necessarily win the Lakers the game, but it gave them a five point lead with just over a minute left and put them in the driver's seat to close this one out.
And close it out they did, even as the Bucks did everything they could to not let them. Whether it was Giannis Antetokounmpo's elite scoring and defense (40 points to go along with 7 rebounds), Jrue Holiday's (28 points, 6-12 from behind the arc) and Middleton's (17 points, 3-4 from behind the arc) high level shot making, or Brook Lopez's strong two-way play all night, the Bucks showed why they came into this game as the East's 2nd seed and a true title contender.
The Lakers, though -- even if only for a night -- met that level and exceeded it. They did it on the backs of their star players, but really as a total team that played with focus and urgency... and for their head coach, who returned to coach against his old team for the first time and gets to walk out with a victory.
What a night for him and for his team. They have chance to keep this momentum going when they travel to Washington, D.C. on Sunday to face the Wizards.