LeBron James powered the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers to a crucial 135-133 overtime win over the Utah Jazz as LA looks to battle its way into the NBA playoffs.
The Lakers looked down and out before the trade deadline but, thanks to clever maneuvering by the front office and an uptick in performances, their season has been rescued from the depths of despair.
LeBron’s performance in the latest clutch win even resulted in his teammates making goat noises post-game – paying homage to his big display.
Following the victory against the Jazz, the Lakers currently have the same 41-38 record as their crosstown rivals, the LA Clippers – with the two playing in the Lakers’ second game of a back-to-back tonight.
The winner of the all LA clash will temporarily claim sixth place in the Western Conference standings and will control their own destiny as they look to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
LeBron leads the Lakers to crucial win
The tension was palpable throughout the first quarter at Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena, with both franchises needing to secure the victory.
Both teams traded buckets throughout the first and the Lakers claimed a 34-33 lead after the opening 12 minutes.
However, LeBron and Co. demonstrated their strong form and stamped their authority on the game throughout the second quarter.
Even in his 18th year in the league, James showed he still has his explosiveness of old and finished off an incredible alley-oop with a powerful slam from an Austin Reaves assist.
Will Hardy’s Utah squad came out of halftime 11 points down and with a point to prove. Following the interval, the Jazz stormed back into the tie – making it a one-possession game in the third.
But just as they have in the latter part of the season, the Lakers rallied and regained some control of the situation.
With just 1:43 left in the game, Reaves – who has been integral to the Lakers’ turnaround – drained a huge three with what should have been the dagger.
The 24-year-old’s shot from deep condemned the Jazz to a 10-point deficit with less than two minutes left on the clock. But in the topsy-turvy Western Conference, anything can happen and, led by Kelly Olynyk, the Jazz went on a late run.
With just 11.1 seconds left in the game, Damian Jones was sent to line with the Jazz down two. The center nailed both free throws to tie things up at 124-124.
Jones then came up clutch on the defensive end: the 27-year-old stopped James from giving the Lakers the win on the final possession and ensured the game headed to overtime.
Fans in Salt Lake were treated to five minutes of free basketball and neither side pulled away in the extra period.
However, in a game where he scored for fun, LeBron managed to seal the win for the Lakers with a tricky, spinning move resulting in a layup.
James finished the game with 37 points, six assists and five rebounds in a complete performance from the NBA’s all-time leading scorer – and the goat noises got underway.
Darvin Ham’s side will now get ready to take on their local rivals in a game with severe ramifications on who will finish where in the West.
The winner will take control of the last guaranteed playoff spot with just two games left in the regular season.
Lakers fans will be delighted with their turnaround in the second half of the campaign and will head into the postseason full of confidence if their team can continue to produce when it matters.