LeBron James wanted the inventor of the NBA's play-in tournament fired, but all the event did was put the Los Angeles Lakers back in the playoffs while delivering a back-and-forth thriller.
The Lakers topped the Golden State Warriors 103-100 on Wednesday in the fourth game of the play-in tournament, ensuring a turbulent and injury-riddled season won't end before the NBA playoffs. Awaiting the Lakers, now the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, will be the second-seeded Phoenix Suns.
Despite playing in only four of the regular season's last 30 games, James posted a triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Lakers their final lead.
In addition to James' lingering ankle issue, which Lakers coach Frank Vogel admitted wasn't full strength before the game, James also appeared to have an issue with his eye after taking smack in the face from Draymond Green on a foul.
"I was literally seeing three rims out there, so I just shot at the middle one," James said after the game.
Lakers found their identity in second half
The unsung MVP of the Lakers was Alex Caruso, who made a valiant effort defending Stephen Curry as the Warriors star frantically searched for any space he could find on the perimeter. Curry still posted 37 points, but he clearly could have had more.
The Warriors ran up a 13-point lead over the course of the first half, with the help of an extended drought from the Lakers' most important players. James, Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder combined to go just 4-of-28 from the field before halftime, while Curry found his shooting stroke enough to do this to end the half:
The Lakers woke up in the third quarter, cutting the lead to one within four minutes, though the Warriors managed to build the lead back up to 12 points before the Lakers went to work again. A dominant stretch from James to end the third quarter pulled the Lakers back within two, and the team took the lead a minute into the fourth quarter.
The NBA's top team in defensive efficiency ended up holding the Warriors to 44.6% shooting and forced 20 turnovers.
While the Lakers will advance to the playoffs, the Warriors will be fighting for their lives on Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, who defeated the San Antonio Spurs in the previous play-in game.
Lakers to face Suns in NBA playoffs
You really have to feel for the Suns.
After a dream season in which so much right, the No. 2 team in the West will be rewarded with the full-strength defending champions in the first round. The Lakers sank in the standings due to injuries to Davis and James, but both players looked playoff-ready on Wednesday.
The Lakers-Suns series will likely be the most anticipated of the first round, with the Lakers the favorites (+180) to win the Western Conference per BetMGM.
Game 1 is set to tip-off at 12:30 p.m. PT on Sunday.
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