The crowd had been revived. The energy had been restored. The building shook. The Dallas Mavericks were shaken.
“Let’s Go Lakers!”… “Let’s Go Lakers.”
With one minute left in a roaring comeback for the ages Wednesday night, the Lakers were on the verge of overcoming a 20-point fourth quarter deficit for their finest moment of the young season.
They grabbed a two-point lead. They grabbed the ball. They had stolen a victory.
And everything went dumb.
LeBron James, amazing again with 16 points in the final dozen minutes, clanked a foolish three-point shot.
Austin Reaves, inspirational again with nine points in that final quarter, foolishly gave the Mavs’ Kyrie Irving just enough room to sink a go-ahead trey.
Then, in the final seconds, James foolishly tried to force the ball inside to Anthony Davis, even though Davis had been passive and scoreless the entire quarter. The pass was picked off by Luka Doncic and Irving later clinched it with free throws.
Final score: Mavericks 104, Lakers 101.
Final message: There are no moral victories, only troubling losses.
On the night before Thanksgiving, the Lakers endured a reality check similar to the one felt by the drivers in the traditional parade of brake lights winding along the 405.
Life in this town can get messy in a hurry.
One moment you’re sailing along in an epic rebound against your toughest opponent since opening night, forcing the Mavs into missing their first 11 shots in the fourth quarter, outscoring them 21-4, filling Crypto.com Arena with noise and dancing and hope.
The next minute, you’re all clogged up.
“We don’t believe in moral victories around here,” said coach Darvin Ham afterward. “As I said before…it’s not just wins and losses — there’s wisdoms and lessons. We got a lesson today.”
Yes, they were taught that they could muster the resilience to mount a last-gasp comeback even when playing on the second day of a back-to-back.
“The way we fought from down in the fourth quarter, fought back and gave ourselves a chance,” said Ham. “That’s what you draw from that game. That’s a lesson you draw from it.”
But, yes, they were also taught that this is what can happen when you must consistently rely on the NBA’s oldest player to carry you.
James, who finished with 26 points in 36 minutes, was clearly exhausted in the final minutes. That fatigue is undoubtedly what led to his ill-advised three point attempt with 34 seconds left and the Lakers leading by two.
“We gave ourselves a fighting chance but it’s kind tough when you go down that many points, especially going into the fourth versus a high-powered offense,” said James.
And certainly, fatigue was involved in an eventual game-deciding pass that James admitted was lousy.
“Yeah, I left it a little short, left it a little short,” said James. “The right read, just as the quarterback, I just left it short. I didn’t lead my receiver and I got picked off.”
Another lesson was that they cannot survive with Davis barely showing up, as he had just four baskets and 10 points with just two offensive rebounds. He took 10 shots, missed more than half, missed his only shot in the fourth quarter, and in a matchup of this magnitude, that’s just not acceptable.
“It’s an 82-game season,” said Ham, once again making apologies for Davis’ inconsistency. “There’s going to be nights when it’s not your night… trust your guys because more times than not they’re going to knock those shots down.”
Afterward Davis was looking as glum as he always looks after he plays poorly in a loss, his forehead furrowed as he vainly searched for an explanation.
“To start the game and through the first three quarters, we missed a ton of shots — all of us,” he said. “We make those shots, it’s a different ballgame…it just wasn’t there. Everything was either short or rolling around the rim and then falling off. So, a tough night for us offensively.”
And, in the end, a tough night defensively for Reaves, who had recently seemingly lost his touch in his new role off the bench. He regained his starting magic offensively in this fourth quarter, but admittedly lost his mojo again on Irving’s game-winning shot.
“I made a dumb decision and dropped a little too far,” he said of guarding Irving. “It was a two-point game and Luka [Doncic] was driving and I just made a bad decision and should’ve fanned out because a two, they tie it instead of going up one. And then we can take the last shot or whatever the time was at the time. But that’s the one that’ll stick with me because I should know better and do better.”
That’s another lesson in Wednesday’s awakening. The Lakers can’t win if they can’t get more out of Reaves on both ends of the court. He was their surprise star last spring. He, along with fellow guard D’Angelo Russell, needs to be that again.
“Ultimately we can look at the whole game, and look at the fourth quarter and see a lot of really good things we did, the way we guarded them, played offensively with the pass,” said Reaves. “But, nah, any loss sucks.”
It does, and this one did, and they should have seen it coming.
The first half ended with Reaves grabbing a long rebound and throwing up a midcourt prayer that was seemingly answered when the ball banked through the net as the crowd roared in delight.
Moments later, officials ruled that the shot was released after the buzzer.
Turns out, it ended up being that kind of night for all of the Lakers, who threw up the first miracle of this oh-so-hopeful season only to have it rudely thrown back in their faces.
Brake lights everywhere.