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Lakers, Anthony Davis, LeBron James

2 unlikely heroes in Lakers craziest win of the season

The Los Angeles Lakers are accustomed to relying on two players to deliver in the clutch. However, in the team’s wildest and gutsiest win of 2020-21 — a grueling 101-99 overtime triumph over the New York Knicks at Staples Center — it wasn’t Anthony Davis nor LeBron James who made the two biggest plays; it was Talen Horton-Tucker and Wesley Matthews.

In the final seconds of regulation, with the Lakers trailing 91-89 and their chances of escaping the play-in tournament all but on the line, the 34-year old Matthews fought for position under the basket as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope launched a corner three. Matthews successfully bodied Derrick Rose for the equalizing put-back with 3.1 seconds remaining.

“I’m gonna go get it,” Matthews said about his decision to park under the rim. “With the game on the line, there’s no point of me being behind the 3-point line.”

Matthews — who has been in and out of the rotation all season — got the start for the second straight game, and once again made the most of the opportunity. He followed up a +13 on Sunday against the Phoenix Suns with a +14 against the Knicks.

He scored eight points on Tuesday, including two of the most consequential of the year. He grabbed three of his 20 offensive boards for the season, including the most important by any Laker in 2020-21.

“All we had to do is get one rebound,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau lamented. “The rebounding beat us tonight,”

On the defensive end, Matthews led the effort to stifle R.J. Barrett, who struggled for breathing room and finished with eight points on 2-of-13 shooting.

Five minutes after Matthews’ put-back, Horton-Tucker sealed the deal for the “desperate” Lakers. With L.A. trailing 99-98, THT confidently came off an AD screen and dribbled into a triple from the left wing, pulling up in the grill of Rose, his childhood idol. The swish put the Lakers up by two with 21.1 seconds to go.

Fittingly, Horton-Tucker’s heroics came after the sophomore nearly gave the game away. In the final minute, he committed an offensive foul trying to force a bucket, then was picked from behind by Rose. Yet, the 20-year old was unfazed and undeterred.

“The kid has confidence. He has heart,” Davis said postgame. “Second year in the league. You don’t see that from a lot of players. For him to come off a turnover…to have the next play mindset and come down and hit the game-winning 3 is huge. That just sums up Tal-o right there.”

 

Horton-Tucker was asked to carry an outsized ball-handling load for the bulk of the post-halftime minutes, as Alex Caruso — starting in place of Dennis Schröder — exited early with foot soreness. (James is expected to return Wednesday vs. the Houston Rockets).

It wasn’t always pretty, but it sure was ballsy.

THT gave the rock away a career-high seven times. The Lakers fell into a six-minute drought from the third and fourth quarters, and the Knicks opened up a 10-point lead off a THT turnover.

Yet, Horton-Tucker didn’t shy away from the challenge of running point against one of the league’s toughest defenses. Instead, he more than made up for it with 13 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, two steals in 34 minutes. He relentlessly attacked the paint and forced the issue.

He scored eight of the Lakers’ 10 points in the extra period, including the last three.

“Honestly, just, I was trying to make up for [the turnovers],” Horton-Tucker said. “Just being in that position, I thought, ‘Why not?’ The opportunity presented itself, and I just tried to keep my confidence and good things happen.”

The youngest Laker was showered with praise from his veteran teammates.

“He knows how to make up plays, I’ll tell you that” Andre Drummond cracked. “Coming down and having the big turnover … To come back and knock down a big-time 3 on the same guy who stole the ball from you…His confidence is always through the roof. He plays like he’s been in the NBA for years. I love playing with him. He’s an incredible talent.”

Frank Vogel had another way of putting it:

“He’s got big guts. Let’s just say that. Big guts. And he showed it with that shot.”