The Los Angeles Lakers are officially in the playoffs as the West's No. 7 seed after defeating the Golden State Warriors 103-100 in the 7-8 play-in game on Wednesday. If ever there was an example of why the play-in tournament should be adopted permanently, this game was it. The game was a legit classic with March Madness feels throughout as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green tried to will their underdog Dubs into the dance.
LeBron James just wouldn't let it happen.
Despite finishing with a 22-11-10 triple-double as a plus-13 for the game, James was nowhere near his best on Wednesday. He was somewhere between lethargic and supremely patient, saving his scoring aggression for a few timely spurts. And then, with the game tied and the clock ticking under a minute, he turned a busted possession into what would prove to be the game-winning, fade-away 3-pointer from the Staples Center logo.
Still nursing the sprained ankle that kept him out for all but four games over the final two months of the regular season, James clearly wasn't 100 percent to start the game, and depending on how much stock you put in his acting chops, he was perhaps even further compromised when he hit that shot. It came on the heels of an at-rim run-in with Draymond Green, who made inadvertent contact with LeBron's face as he committed what was ultimately deemed to be a common foul.
LeBron put on quite the show as he went to the ground. You know the routine. A lot of flailing. You'd think the guy took a bullet. Then he continued to the bench, where eye drops were administered. According to James, when he drained that final shot, he did so with the vision of Rocky Balboa in the last round against Drago.
"After the finger to the eye, I was seeing three rims and shot at the middle one. By grace, I was able to knock it down," James said afterward. "I've been poked in the eye before. It is going to be sore tonight and tomorrow, but we got a big-time win."
To be fair, LeBron's left eye did look a little puffy in his postgame interview. I'm not sure the guy was honestly seeing three baskets, but either way, that was a big-time shot that, frankly, you kind of knew was going in the minute it left his hand. I don't know about all the "LeBron isn't clutch" talk early in his career, but he's been making monster shots for as long as I can remember.
This wasn't the first time a call involving LeBron and Draymond could've potentially swung a huge playoff game. We all remember Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals when LeBron appeared to step over Green, who responded with a swinging arm to LeBron's man region that earned him a technical foul and a subsequent suspension for Game 5, swinging the series in Cleveland's favor.
This call on Wednesday went in Golden State's favor and had the Lakers lost, this would've been a huge story that Green wasn't whistled for a flagrant, which would've given the Lakers two free throws plus possession in a photo-finish game. Green certainly could have been called for a flagrant. Technically, he made contact with LeBron's face. Green stayed pretty much vertical and his hands only came down after LeBron's forward progress knocked Green backward, but still, flagrant fouls have been called for less.
In the end, it didn't matter. LeBron's shot made the non-flagrant a non-story. The Lakers are marching on, while the Warriors will now host the Memphis Grizzlies in a do-or-die game for the No. 8 seed on Friday.