“Lakers in four,” they said. “It’s only 0-1, we can come back,” they said. But when 0-1 in playoff basketball becomes 0-3, it’s almost a given that the LakeShow is a no-go.
Let’s set the scene: It’s game four, the Lakers are home and there are two minutes until the first quarter begins. A reel begins to play on the jumbotron — 0-3 comeback victories across a plethora of sports begin floating across the screen, despite the fact that no NBA team has ever won a playoff series after being down 0-3. Purple and gold splashed across the stands erupting into a thunderous roar; it’s LakeShow time.
Despite the nearly impossible odds ahead — a never-been-done-before 0-3 comeback coupled with a seemingly unstoppable Nikola Jokić and a Nuggets head coach who has years more experience than Laker first-year coach Darvin Ham — the Lakers came to Crypto.com Arena with an ax to grind.
Well, Lebron James came with an ax to grind, at least. King James was responsible for 40 of the Lakers’ 111 points Monday night, 31 of which he grabbed in the first half alone.
If there’s any 38-year-old who can play 48 straight minutes of playoff basketball, it’s the King. Beyond thrilling stats, James also continued to pull away from the league record books. He is now the first player in NBA history to exceed 8,000 career playoff points, an accolade that adds to the new all-time scoring King’s total, a seat in NBA royalty he assumed from hall of fame legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar this season.
But as good as the King is, he’s no longer in his prime. The Joker, on the other hand, very much is. Getting the best of a seven-foot tall, two-time Kia NBA MVP who led the league in triple-doubles is no small feat, and the Lakers ultimately failed to do so.
“When you have a guy like Joker, as big as he is but also as cerebral as he is, you can’t really make many mistakes against a guy like that,” James said in a post-game press conference.
This is doubly the case when your opponent’s starting five all make considerable contributions. When coupling a powerhouse like Jokić with a sharpshooter in Jamal Murray, especially when pieces like Aaron Gordon have their best game of the series, everything counts.
And yes, the dynamic duo of Anthony Davis and James, especially when players like Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and Dennis Schröder are clicking around them, is a contendable force. But missed free throws, unnecessary shooting fouls and debatable calls will cost you the game.
Monday’s matchup was indeed a Laker L, but let’s take some time to appreciate what was the Lakers’ best game of the series. With LeBron leading the game, the Lakers were up 15 at halftime — their first true lead of the series. The LakeShow maintained its lead for three straight quarters, keeping Jokić under control — as much as one can keep a man like that under control.
But, with a Denver that finally clicked when it counted, the Nuggets managed to sweep the Lakers 113-111. With an impressive playoff run ending in the conference championships, change could be on the way in Los Angeles, starting with the purple and gold’s most important player.
“We’ll see what happens going forward,” James said in the press conference. “I got a lot to think about, to be honest. Just for me personally, going forward with the game of basketball, I got a lot to think about.”
LeBron’s statement shocked fans across the nation given his previous nods at the desire to stay in the league until his son, Bronny James, could play in the league alongside him. Though the future of NBA basketball with the King in its clutches lies in the unknown, James has undoubtedly cemented his legacy over the course of the last 20 years.
“We had a great run, but we fell short of our goal, and our goal is to win championships. That’s what this franchise is about, and we fell short of that,” James said in the press conference.
Whether or not James was fouled on that buzzer-beater layup, we’ll never know, but there is one resolute fact. For Laker fans across the nation, a new mantra will sound: Heat in four.