LeBron James, in his 48th minute on the court, with his team down one in double overtime, sank two free throws in the final seconds to cap a classic and give the Lakers a 145-144 win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.
James had a triple-double with 36 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists, outdueling longtime rival Stephen Curry, who scored 46.
Curry hit a wide-open three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in double overtime to give the Warriors a one-point lead. James then took an inbound pass with less than four seconds left and drew a foul from Draymond Green with 1.2 seconds left as he drove to the basket.
Anthony Davis had 29 points and 13 rebounds and D’Angelo Russell scored 28 as the Lakers started their six-game Grammy trip with a win.
The late-game drama came on a night when the Lakers seem headed for another round of lineup changes.
With just under two minutes to go in the first half Saturday, James walked to the scorer’s table to check in. D’Angelo Russell walked to the Lakers bench to sit down for the final 115 seconds of the half.
But Russell wasn’t the one who was supposed to come out. Instead, coach Darvin Ham decided to close the half with the same five players who blew out the Bulls late in the second quarter on Thursday, a lineup that helped push the Lakers to the Western Conference finals last season.
Instead of Russell sitting, Taurean Prince went to the bench.
The Lakers ripped off a 13-4 run, with James beating the buzzer on a short jump shot and running into the locker room.
That stretch in the second quarter, just like the one in the third and the one fourth might be a precursor to change.
In a game as tight as this one, every advantage mattered.
Starting their Grammy road trip at .500 with six games before the trade deadline, big decisions are coming. And another change with the starting lineup could be one of them.
The Lakers (24-23) opened the second half with Prince in for Jarred Vanderbilt and the Warriors’ pounced, a 24-5 run especially cruel to Prince’s plus/minus rating (minus-22 in 24 minutes).
Ham took two timeouts during the stretch, putting Vanderbilt in for Prince at the end of the second.
The Lakers scored 14 straight points.
Last season’s starting five — Vanderbilt, Davis, James, Austin Reaves and Russell — doesn’t get credit for all of that work. Davis went to the locker room after suffering a hip injury that looked as if it could’ve been much worse.
But it was that group that closed regulation and most of both overtimes, a stretch that began with the Lakers down by four points.
Frustrations over the lack of run for that group — according to NBA stats, it had logged just 11 total minutes over five games this season before Saturday — has been a common criticism of Ham.
Vanderbilt missed the first 20 games of the season because of a heel injury that visibly affected his play until recently, when his athleticism, energy and confidence have taken a dramatic uptick.
And Prince has been one of the Lakers’ most durable players — an actual floor-spacing threat who has competed on defense while playing more minutes per night than he ever has. Ham also has been criticized for his frequent lineup changes, with James praising the recent consistency after the Lakers beat the Bulls.
“The good thing Coach Ham did was [say], ‘This is the lineup we’re sticking with and we’re going to go with that,’” James said.
But as the Lakers have searched to find the combination that works best, the resistance to doing what worked best last has raised plenty of questions.