LeBron James’ shot gave Lakers lead, but impeccable defense on Warriors’ Stephen Curry sealed play-in win

It was pretty easy to figure out which highlight would land at No. 1 on the early Thursday edition of the “SportsCenter” Top 10.

With exactly one minute remaining in Wednesday’s play-in game between the Lakers and Warriors and the score tied at 100, LeBron James caught the ball at the Staples Center logo and launched a deep attempt to avoid a shot clock violation. The four-time NBA champion drained the triple, leaving Stephen Curry stunned.

James’ shot ended up being the game-winner and instantly electrified NBA Twitter, especially after James, who totaled 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against Golden State, revealed that he was struggling with his vision after Draymond Green accidentally poked him in the eye on a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter. When asked about the play during his postgame media availability, Curry provided succinct analysis.

“It’s a great shot,” Curry said. “Broken play, I sunk in thinking he was kind of out of the play. They found him. He got his balance just in time and knocked it down. That was a tough one because you don’t really expect it to go in. You expect us to get the rebound, come down in transition, have a possession to take the lead. But everything changed when it goes in.

“All-time great players make great shots. That’s what happens.”

While James certainly deserves credit for hitting the ridiculous heave, the final chapter of the thrilling contest may have played out differently had his Lakers teammates not put together two terrific defensive possessions against Curry to secure the victory and the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket.

After James gave the Lakers a three-point advantage, Curry took the ball and immediately began hunting for a scoring opportunity. However, Alex Caruso and Anthony Davis refused to let Curry answer with a 3-pointer of his own.

Here’s that full possession:

Curry initially challenges Caruso one-on-one, but Caruso does a great job of staying in front of Curry without fouling. Davis peels off Green to attack Curry, who quickly recognizes the double-team and gets rid of the ball. Curry, never one to stay put on offense, then sprints toward Green for a handoff. Normally this type of play spells doom for the opposition because it’s difficult to stop the initial action and stick with Curry as he does his dance with Green.

But Caruso goes over the top of Green’s screen and makes Curry feel his presence, and Davis continues his pursuit as well. When Curry tries to draw a foul with a shot fake, Davis wisely stays on his feet and goes straight up, leaving Curry with an awkward attempt that gets partially blocked. Caruso recovers to Curry, and Davis retreats back to Green once Curry picks up his dribble.

Sure, the Warriors get a good look from the corner that rims out, but the key here is that Curry isn’t the one taking the shot.

Golden State had one last chance with 2.1 seconds on the clock, but Los Angeles once again passed the Curry test.

Here’s the final possession:

The Warriors look to confuse the Lakers with lots of movement and screening on their sideline out-of-bounds play. Andrew Wiggins loops around to the opposite corner, and Jordan Poole floats to the near wing. None of that matters to the Lakers — they are locked in on Curry.

Wesley Matthews and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are just fine leaving Wiggins alone and keeping two bodies on Curry during the initial action. When Green screens for Curry, Davis immediately switches off Green and follows Curry out beyond the arc. Kent Bazemore forces a high pass to Curry, and the ball harmlessly bounces away. Game over.

Did the Lakers completely shut down Curry? No, of course not. The two-time NBA MVP had 37 points on 12-of-23 shooting in 41 minutes. Stars such as Curry and James are simply too good, too smart and too experienced to not have an impact over four quarters.

But on the game’s most important possessions, the Lakers didn’t allow an all-time great player to make a great shot. And sometimes that’s enough.

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