How much longer can we truly say that Father Time is undefeated?
LeBron James continues to defy that adage and the Lakers’ first-ever In-Season Tournament knockout game was no different.
You’ve heard it plenty of times already this season: He’s 38 years old, it’s Year 21 and he’s still dominating at the highest level. But going up against his future Hall of Fame counterpart Kevin Durant — who is challenging Father Time, himself — James proved that he is still undeniably one of the best players in the world.
The Lakers defeated the Suns 106-103 in a thriller that came all the way down to a missed Durant game-tying 3 at the buzzer, advancing to Las Vegas for the IST semifinals.
James put up a jaw-dropping stat line of 31 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals, placing his name alongside some of the greatest names Lakers lore has to offer.
It wasn’t done without controversy, though. James was rewarded a timeout in the final seconds of a one-possession game that, after seeing several replays, probably should not have been granted. It helped Los Angeles hold on to win and irritated the masses at the same time.
For more on James’ historic stat line and the timeout call that will make headlines, The Sporting News has you covered below.
LeBron James matches Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant in Lakers history in In-Season Tournament win over Suns
Put a championship of any sort on the line and James is going to elevate his play to a different level. It’s that simple.
That was evident from the jump, as he helped the Lakers get out to an early lead with his everlasting cerebral playmaking.
James dished out five assists in the first quarter alone. His one-handed, no-look dime to Taurean Prince served as another reminder that LeBron is one of the best passers the game has ever seen.
LeBron throws a NO-LOOK dime to Prince for the assist
🏀 Suns/Lakers on TNT
🏆 Winner faces Pelicans in Knockout Rounds Semifinals in Las Vegas on Thursday pic.twitter.com/U9oFvq1cot
— NBA (@NBA) December 6, 2023
The Lakers led by 12 at the half but the Suns were quick to erase that deficit in the third quarter. Grayson Allen caught fire from 3 and Durant started to heat up, knocking down five of his six shots in the frame.
With a battle on our hands heading into the fourth quarter, James came out in attack mode, shifting into a different gear.
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer would go on to post 15 of his 31 points in the final frame, getting downhill to the rim with ease like it was 2010 all over again. He had back-to-back buckets to extend the Lakers’ lead with under three minutes to play, including a ridiculously smooth up-and-under finish with four Suns defenders crowding the paint.
LEBRON TAKEOVER 👑
LBJ scores back-to-back buckets to put the Lakers ahead 102-97!
🏀 Suns/Lakers on TNT
🏆 Winner faces Pelicans in Knockout Rounds Semifinals in Las Vegas on Thursday pic.twitter.com/msYpS23HWM
— NBA (@NBA) December 6, 2023
Austin Reaves would eventually deliver what would become the kill shot, a dagger pull-up 3 in Allen’s grill to give Los Angeles a five-point lead with 15 seconds to go.
The Suns wouldn’t go away — which led to the controversial timeout we’ll address in a second — but the Lakers would fend off their comeback attempt behind James’ historic efforts.
With 31 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals, LeBron became the first Laker to reach those numbers since Magic Johnson in 1987. He was also the first Laker to have at least 20 points, 10 assists and five steals in a game since Kobe Bryant in 2004.
LeBron James controversial timeout vs. Suns
The win wouldn’t come without something to suffice for Wednesday morning’s talk shows, though.
The Suns were full-court pressing with 7.1 seconds to play trailing by two. Durant and Devin Booker perfectly executed a trap on Reaves as he fumbled the ball in the backcourt.
As Reaves got into trouble, James, on the opposite sideline, signaled to the official for a timeout, but the ball appeared to have already been loose.
What could have been a turnover-turned-game-tying layup resulted in a timeout rewarded to James.
The timeout call couldn’t be challenged but after several replays, it became clear the Lakers may have gotten away with one.
The ball was DEFINITELY loose. I don’t see how the referees grant a timeout here. pic.twitter.com/ZlaxGXpCx6
— Kevin O’Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) December 6, 2023
After the game, Suns head coach Frank Vogel was adamant that the officiating crew got the call wrong. “You can’t call a timeout on a loose ball. … We were ready to tie the game up and that opportunity was taken from us,” he told AZ Central’s Duane Rankin.
Booker had a simple response from his perspective, “The whole world seen it.”
The pool report from the officiating crew explained what they saw from their perspective.
“During live play the official felt that LA still had possession of the ball when LeBron James requested the timeout,” crew chief Josh Tiven told The Athletic’s Jovan Buha.
“Through postgame video review in slow motion replay, we did see that Austin Reaves had his left hand on the ball while it’s pinned against his left leg, which does constitute control.”
Source : ESPN.com