How the Lakers-Warriors matchup in the NBA play-in tournament showcased a mix of incredible storylines and historic talent


“Throws it back up top, James puts up the three, OH IT’S GOOD! Lebron James from downtown as the shot clock expires!”

While this call from Mike Breen does not compare to his yearly, noteworthy coverage of the NBA Finals, the call on this LeBron James go-ahead three over Steph Curry captures every bit of excitement and energy that surrounded and permeated this playoff game. 

Standing as an unprecedented moment in basketball history, the NBA kicked off the “play-in” tournament with a slate of highly impressive matchups. Between the battles of Jayson Tatum and Russell Westbrook in the east and DeMar DeRozan versus Ja Morant in the west, the opening round of the newly-founded tournament has attracted major publicity for the NBA. This, in reality, was likely the league’s aim when designing these playoff seeding faceoffs. Despite all of this, the seven-versus-eight game between the Lakers and Warriors certainly lived up to its hype.

In a legendary matchup between LeBron and his on-court enemy and MVP contender Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors made the trip out to Los Angeles to take on the high-powered Lakers. Although it is obvious that neither team was thrilled by the idea of participating in a play-in tournament to earn a playoff spot, the fireworks displayed in this game brought back memories of previous years in the NBA. 

Going back to 2015, the Davidson product in Stephen Curry exploded onto the scene in his sixth season. The six-foot-three stud shattered multiple NBA shooting records en route to a unanimous MVP selection. As he and his fellow Warriors reached the NBA Finals, he encountered LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. After a four-year stint in Miami, this was LeBron’s first season back in Cleveland and he was out for blood. Despite his hunger to bring a championship back to “The Land”, the MVP was too much for the Cavs and took home the Larry O’Brien trophy. 

The teams would meet in the NBA Finals for the next three years, featuring one of the best playoff comebacks of all time. After going down 3-1 in 2016, LeBron James willed his team back into contention against the 73-9 Warriors and accomplished what seemed like the impossible. However, Kevin Durant’s entrance in San Francisco the following offseason created too much firepower for James to handle. The Warriors would stand as world champions for the subsequent two years.

In the present day, Curry stills sports the Golden State threads and possesses a competitive rivalry with LeBron. With James’ supporting cast of Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond, the Lakers matched up well against the Warriors. Having won the NBA Finals last season, LeBron and the Lakers found themselves in a one-game playoff to potentially earn the seventh seed in the west. The loser of this game would have to win one out of two against the Memphis Grizzlies to secure the final seed. These high stakes created a heavy dose of stigma around the first ballot hall-of-famers and the capacity of this on-court showdown.

In contrast to Curry, James sat out five of LA’s last seven games due to an injury. As a result, LeBron’s production to start the game was subpar. Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins seemed to have his way in the first half, converting on a pair of drives along with a few impressive kick-out passes to Kent Bazemore for some three-pointers.

The Lakers had fantastic production off the bench in this game. Alex Caruso nabbed 14 points in addition to single-digit contributions from Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Wesley Matthews. Facing a 55-42 halftime deficit, these role players kept LA afloat throughout the game. LeBron and Anthony Davis combined for an abysmal 3-19 on field goal attempts in the first half. 

Like he is one to do, LeBron began to take over in the second half. He dished out assists at will, allowing the Lakers to climb back in front. James’s beautiful placement on a back-door pass to Kyle Kuzma and the ensuing finish at the rim allowed LA to take its first lead of the night in the fourth quarter. Likewise, Steph Curry warmed up to a large extent by hitting six threes altogether. Curry in conjunction with Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green created a three-headed monster for the Golden State offense.

In the end, it would not come to light. With the score deadlocked at 100 with the clock ticking under a minute, it seemed as if Alex Caruso was clamped inside with an expiring shot clock. Without hesitation, Caruso fired a pass outside to LeBron that found him with less than two seconds to shoot. In stride, James pulled up from over thirty feet away; nonetheless, he buried the shot. This moment served as a shock for the Warriors and proved why LeBron James is one of the clutchest players in sports history.

Golden State’s feeble attempt to send the game to overtime was to no avail, and the Lakers escaped with a hard-fought and grueling 103-100 comeback win. When it was all said and done, James finished his night with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists to record yet another triple-double in a primetime game. Although it was just the play-in tournament, this matchup featured some of the best basketball talents to ever touch the court, not to mention the remarkable backstory behind the LeBron-Steph rivalry. As the first round of the playoffs looms, one question remains. Will NBA fans be the recipient of a more entertaining game than this?