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LeBron James, Lakers, Warriors, Stephen Curry

6 insane moments from LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and wild play-in game

The Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors played the greatest play-in game in NBA history. We can safely say that after LeBron James’ heroics lifted Los Angeles to a thrilling win over Stephen Curry and Golden State at Staples Center on Wednesday.

The Lakers secured the no. 7 seed, earning a more favorable road to repeat and three extra days of rest.

Los Angeles will next face the Phoenix Suns — in the first playoff meeting between James and Chris Paul.

On Wednesday, the showdown between long-time rivals and four future Hall of Famers exceeded the hype. Let’s recap the drama.

1) LeBron’s blindest (and longest) shot

With just under two minutes to go, a hard foul on Draymond Green — prompting some hamming from the Space Jam lead — caught James in the eye. (Green was phenomenal on D, and it took him fewer than 10 minutes to get T’d up.)

One minute later, James found himself with the ball and the shot-clock running low. Without hesitation nor clear vision, he splashed a triple from Steph-range, putting the Lakers up 103-100. It proved to be the dagger.

LeBron said he saw “three rims from being poked in the eye…so I just aimed for the middle one.”

“It was a great shot,” Curry acknowledged. “All-time great players make great shots.”

“He’s proved he’s the best player in the world with what he does down the stretch, and obviously he hits that bomb with the game on the line to win it for us,” Frank Vogel said. “Put it on his resume.”

2) BTW, LeBron’s ankle is definitely not healed

LeBron James, Lakers, Warriors, Stephen Curry

LeBron James has adamantly stated that his ankle is good enough to play, if not 100%.

In the first half, his limitations were alarming. He was grounded and plodding. He hit 1-of-7 from the field without making any physical impact on the action.

The second half was a different story for Los Angeles. LeBron resembled himself on a fast-break with 10:32 left in the third quarter — the most welcome sight of the game for Lakers fans until the final minute.

“I’m good,” LeBron James insisted. “Most minutes I’ve played in a long time. I didn’t feel anything.”

Despite a lousy half and ankle, the 36-year old finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in 25 minutes, plus one save.

2) Stephen Curry showed up

Early on, Curry used the threat of his J to set up teammates for comically open looks, enabling Golden State to open up a double-digit lead.

Quickly, he upped the spice.

At times, Curry looked like an All-American carrying a mid-major through the NCAA Tournament. Anytime Los Angeles made a push, he stopped the bleeding.

Stephen Curry dodge, duck, dip, dived, and dodged his way through double-teams, blitzes, and traps.

He displayed his full arsenal of shot-making.

“The guy is just out flat out unbelievable,” Vogel exclaimed. “He’s playing as well or better than anybody’s ever seen him. That’s what I feel. Steve Kerr said we’re going to throw the ‘kitchen sink‘ at him and we did…It’s just remarkable… We’re fortunate to get this W knowing that we did everything we could to slow him down, and he had 37.”

4) The Alex Caruso Game

“He was awesome all night long,” Vogel said about Caruso, who finished with 14 points. “We were struggling offensively, he was 5-for-5 in the first half. Making plays, making shots. Defending his tail off. Made huge plays down the stretch on both sides of the ball…He’s a champion, he’s one of those guys that just moves he need directly with his play, and immediately.”

Caruso was undoubtedly the Lakers’ premier point guard, and not just by default, due to Dennis Schröder’s subpar showing. Without his early transition finishes and activity, Los Angeles may have fallen into an insurmountable hole.

Also, he may have pulled an Allen Iverson selfie-oop?

“I was just trying to be aggressive to score because they…weren’t playing me and they weren’t playing some of our guards because they were so worried about AD,” Caruso said. “Doing what I do. Being opportunistic. A couple of them could have been And-1 opportunities.”

Caruso knows he’ll face more tough tests going forward, but he and the Lakers passed the first exam.

“West is a gauntlet of guards, starting tonight with Steph, and then obviously with our next round matchup, Book and CP. It’s going to be a handful.”

“His attention to detail…always in the right place at the right time,” James said. “He just makes plays. Some of them show up the box score, some of them don’t. But tonight they definitely showed up…He pretty much carried us in the first half offensively, and we just had to match him in the second half.”

5) Wes Matthews, again

At halftime, Vogel evaluated the Lakers’ two-big lineups and made a predictable adjustment: slide AD to the 5.

Matthews got the nod. As he’s done all month, the 34-year old maximized his court-time. He drained a three on his first touch and led the Lakers with +17 in 14 minutes.

“Wes Matthews has performed admirably over the last couple weeks,” Vogel said. “Making just big-time plays. Defensively, offensive rebounds, hustle plays, He’s really enhanced our toughness.”

Vogel said he knew Wes would add toughness and space the floor for AD, who “struggled to get going with the big lineup with Draymond out there muscling him and them not calling anything.”

6) DNPs make major contributions

Los Angeles trailed 55-42 at half, punctuated by an impossible buzzer-beater from Stephen Curry. After a “lackadaisical” effort, per Davis, they got chewed out by two veterans.

“Duds and Smoove pretty much got on our ass at halftime,” LeBron revealed, referring to Jared Dudley and Markieff Morris. “They got us and told us, ‘We got to pick this shit up’…When guys like that speak, you listen. We took it to heart. We didn’t take it personal. We just took it with us, and we improved our effort in the second half.”

As Kerr predicted, the Lakers opened the third on a 14-2 run.

With Adonis Creed courtside, LeBron cited Mike Tyson when describing the Lakers’ delayed moxie.

“We just had to bring the fight to the fight. They was ready to fight…We tried to ease into the game…Once we made the adjustment in the second half, we were able to take the fight to them…Everybody’s got a plan, until you get in the ring and you get punched…Wasn’t comfortable, but it settled us. And we was able to bring the fight to them.”

6) LeBron James vs. Andrew Wiggins and Juan Toscano-Anderson

My favorite moment of the game: On consecutive possessions in the third, James and Wiggins — who checks LeBron with added motivation, with good reason — drilled cold-blooded jumpers on each other’s pride.

After the Lakers used the third frame to generate steals and swing momentum, A Davis alley-oop and Kuzma hook gave Los Angeles the lead. James then went to work on Toscano-Anderson, who, to that point, had adequately flustered the King.

LeBron took JTA to the hole on back-to-back plays to open up an 85-79 lead with 10 minutes remaining. If Green poked James with his finger, JTA apparently did it with his mouth.

“You never want to poke the bear,” Davis said. “I told Jordan Poole, when we both got the double techs, I came down and hit the midrange and I said, ‘You done wake me up.’… Anderson did the same thing with LeBron … You never want to poke the bear.”

The Warriors poked the Lakers. But, as the play-in game reaffirmed: when you come at the King, you best do more than that.