SAN FRANCISCO — With NBA trade season in full swing, it’s only natural to occasionally get caught up in rumors, smokescreens and fake deals being bandied about social media. But Saturday’s epic, double-overtime 145-144 Los Angeles Lakers win over the Golden State Warriors quickly snaps us back to reality, and forces us to remember the whole point of all these transactions that we love so much — to see the greatest basketball players in the world playing at the highest level.
Saturday night’s game wasn’t just about LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry for the umpteenth time. It wasn’t about Anthony Davis looking seriously hurt, then pulling a Willis Reed by returning to the court to help get his team to overtime. It wasn’t even about the 43-to-16 disparity in free throw attempts, in the Lakers’ favor, which was an unsurprising talking point for Warriors coach Steve Kerr afterward.
No, this game was about the fans. It’s why they shell out gobs of money for tickets to see their favorite players and teams. It’s why they buy jerseys and trading cards. It’s why kids hang desperately over the railing as a player walks by, hoping to get a used shoe, an autograph … even a fleeting glance.
Here are 10 clutch, pivotal plays that helped produce one of the greatest games of the 2023-24 NBA season.
1:43 4th quarter – DLo for 3
The Lakers, who trailed by nine points with just under four minutes remaining, took their first lead since early in the third quarter on a D’Angelo Russell 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:43 left in the fourth. Russell didn’t need much space, as Curry was just a hair late on the closeout, and Russell made him and the Warriors pay by hitting nothing but net.
1:27 4th quarter – Wiggins misses both
The Warriors didn’t get to the line much on Saturday night, but they also failed to capitalize for the most part, going 11 for 16 on free throws. The two most costly misses came from Andrew Wiggins, who went to the line after being fouled by Davis with the chance to put the Warriors up by a point with less than 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Instead the Lakers retained the lead, altering how the rest of the game played out.
0:21 4th quarter – The inadvertent whistle
Occasionally in the NBA, something happens that you just can’t explain. After gathering an offensive rebound off of a Curry miss with just over 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Jonathan Kuminga kicked the ball out to Klay Thompson in the corner. At first it appeared that Russell blocked Thompson’s 3-point attempt, but there was a whistle on the play. A foul? A foot on the out-of-bounds line? Traveling? Nope. Drumroll please … an inadvertent whistle!
The result was a jump ball and, with the Warriors trailing by three at the time, Lakers possession could have sealed the win. Instead Draymond Green won the tip, which led to a Curry layup that cut the Laker lead to one point.
0:06 4th quarter – Steph cooks AD
Curry has experienced mixed results when taking big men off the dribble in clutch moments, but he got the best of Anthony Davis on this play. After blowing past Davis but not feeling like he had enough space, Curry dribbled through the lane and looked as if he were going to pull the ball out. But instead he stopped on a dime, changed direction and left Davis in his dust for the game-tying layup that eventually sent it to overtime.
3:40 OT1 – Shot clock reset
With just under four minutes to go and the shot clock winding down, Draymond Green blocked Davis’ corner 3-point attempt. It appeared as if there were five seconds left on the shot clock at the time, but for some reason the referees reset it to 14 for the ensuing possession.
Sure enough, James used all of the clock and made a jumper over Thompson to put the Lakers up by four.
0:53 OT1 – Curry from the corner
Down by four with less than a minute left, the Warriors’ chances were running out. But after falling down earlier in the play, Curry recovered and made his way to the corner, where Green found him for a 3-pointer that cut the Laker lead to a single point.
0:07 OT1 – Klay comes up clutch
Up by three with 11 seconds left, the Lakers elected not to intentionally foul (Davis had the opportunity to foul Green with his back to the basket), and they were burned by one of the best 3-point shooters of all time. Using a Curry screen, Thompson got a step on Austin Reaves, then pump-faked him into the first row before calmly knocking down the game-tying shot that eventually sent us to double-overtime.
0:53 OT2 – One-man fast break
What do you do when you’re down by two with less than a minute left on a one-on-three fast break? If you’re D’Angelo Russell, you pull up for one of the gutsiest shots of the night … and make it, of course. Without hesitation, Russell knocked down a clutch 3-pointer from almost the exact spot he had made one in the fourth quarter. This one gave the Lakers a one-point lead.
After the game, Russell pointed out that he was upset that he had turned the ball over on two previous possessions and wanted to make up for it. Boy, did he.
0:06 OT2 – Steph … again
After a Reaves free throw put the Lakers up by two points, the Warriors inbounded the ball with just over seven seconds left. Curry used a (possibly illegal) Green screen to get a wide-open look from 28 feet away. For normal humans that’s a heave. For Curry, it’s a layup.
0:01 OT2 – LeBron wins it at the line
Curry’s 3-point dagger looked like it would be the game-winner, but James simply wouldn’t be denied. He took the inbounds pass, got a step on rookie Brandin Podziemski, then knifed and bullied his way to the rim, where he was fouled by Green.
James has made countless clutch shots over the course of his career, but free throws have never been the strongest part of his game (74% for his career). He didn’t let that stop him this time, knocking down a pair to give the Lakers a hard-fought, memorable, double-overtime win.
“It’s something that I’ll be able to talk about with my grandkids, you know, talk about me being able to compete versus one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” James said after his latest matchup with Curry. “Hopefully I can be cool with my grandkids at that point for sure.”