Monday’s matchup between the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Lakers was a laugher after two minutes. In the rematch tonight, the two teams put on a much more worthy show: a hard-fought overtime affair that saw 16 ties and 24 lead changes before the Lakers came away with the 128-123 win.
The Raptors had a chance to ice the game in regulation, leading 116-113 with 10 seconds to play. But Scottie Barnes delivered a tricky inbounds pass to Precious Achiuwa who, falling out of bounds, had to toss a desperation pass back to Barnes. Russell Westbrook snagged it, took it the other way, and — after deftly pulling both feet behind the three-point line — drilled the game-tying three pointer to send the affair to OT.
Barnes, who finished with 31 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, had a chance to tie the score with 35 seconds to go in overtime, but bobbled the ball on a post-up move, turning it over. The Lakers sealed the game at the free throw line.
LeBron James led the Lakers with 36 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Although Barnes’ costly mistakes helped this one slip through Toronto’s fingers, they don’t erase how sensational the 20-year-old was in pretty much every other way. He’s the first rookie in Raptors history with a 30-15 game, and had moments against pretty much every Laker on the floor tonight, including James.
The youth movement was in full effect for the Raptors tonight; Previous Achiuwa (age 22) finished with 18 points and five boards, along with three timely and confident three-pointers; and Gary Trent Jr., 23, finished with 23 points and two monster threes down the stretch that nearly helped the Raptors seal the game in regulation.
Westbrook — in what might well have been his best game of the season — had 22 points, 10 board and 10 assists, and made four of his seven three point attempts. Hilariously, his game-tying triple came after he’d bricked a game-tying three just five seconds earlier, one that went off the side of the backboard before the Raptors recovered.
The loss is a big one, potentially, in the standings, as while the Raptors were losing in OT, the Cleveland Cavaliers won in OT, defeating the Denver Nuggets 119-116. The results mean the Cavs are now one game up on the Raptors for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with the tie-breaker in hand. (The two teams play in Toronto next week.)
Although the loss stings — especially since it was so avoidable — it was a treat to see such a close game with a pretty full Scotiabank Arena crowd. And it was pretty cool — still, after all these years — to see LeBron, live and in person. He gets bigger cheers in the layup line than Gary Trent Jr. did in the starting lineup introduction — and the arena is like one-fifth full. People sitting near the court stand up and lean forward, hoping for a fleeting moment of eye contact. Kids yell his name.
At one point during warmups, a ball bounced into the third row, and two kids passed it back in to LeBron. He turned and fired a three, draining it. Those kids assisted on a LeBron three! The King stays the King.
Speaking of LeBron, he opened the game guarding Siakam, and picked him up for much of the first half. On the initial possession, Siakam used a Birch screen to get the edge and found Barnes in the corner, who opened the scoring with the corner three.
But LeBron got it right back with a beautiful dish on the other end to Westbrook for the layup.
That was a sign of things to come for this one — Barnes providing scoring punch, LeBron and Westbrook counterpunching.
Another sign of things to come: Runs! Both teams were streaky in this one. The Lakers, playing with more energy early, jumped out to a 15-5 lead. The Raptors then used an 18-3 run to take a 23-18 lead, before the Lakers closed the opening quarter on a 10-3 to finish the frame up 33-30.
The second quarter saw more runs, as the Lakers used a 10-3 spurt to jump ahead 57-46, only for the Raptors to use a 9-2 run to close the half trailing by four, 59-55.
The Raptors opened the third with a Siakam and-1 and a Scottie slam — one with a look-back to LeBron, from whom Scottie stole the ball. Much as Barnes owned he first two minutes of the game, he did the same in the second half:
Scottie Barnes in first 2.5 minutes of the half:— Louis Zatzman (@LouisZatzman) March 19, 2022
- lookback dunk (looking at LeBron, lol)
- side-step jumper out of iso
- drive and hanging finish
- no-look, one-handed dime to Trent for a 3
Also keep in mind — Scottie was fighting Dwight Howard all night too. He may be the the Howard of old, but he’s still got height and weight on Scottie.
A Wenyen Gabriel broke the run, but straddling the two halves, it was a 13-2 Raptors stretch. Two minutes later a Trent 3 gave the Raptors a 67-64 lead.
for the folks at home, Precious has hit 20 of his last 42 3-pointers. prettyyyyyy gooood— Samson Folk (the coach) (@samfolkk) March 19, 2022
The Raptors pushed the lead to 4, 77-73, a few minutes later on an Achiuwa three, but that was their biggest of the night — they never gave themselves enough of a cushion to hold off a LeBron rally, should The King choose to try one. And he did!
James opened the fourth with two dunks and two layups, plus a block of a Barnes layup, to keep the Lakers even. Then he assisted on an Austin Reaves three. And then? Well, it was LeBronto time, redux.
After a wicked Barnes jam put the Raptors up 107-105, LeBron found himself isolated with only Precious Achiuwa between him and the rim.
And Precious played it perfectly, staying in front of James and not falling for the patented shoulder-fakes. But in true LeBronto fashion, he stepped back, rose up and drained a spectacular, off-balance, off-the-glass three over Achiuwa to give the Lakers a 108-107 lead. You could say that banking that one in was luck, but it’s LeBron James, and this is Toronto.
Up next: The Raptors are in Philadelphia to play the 76ers on Sunday.