Old engines take longer to warm up.
LeBron James stood in and let Ja Morant crash into him. He skied for rebounds. He scanned the defense. But the bucket — the one the Lakers had to have, the hoop that could help write his legacy as a Laker in a full building — escaped him for 48 minutes.
Well, at least it did for 47 minutes 59.2 seconds.
No matter the defensive stops, hustle plays, charges or rebounds, everything James did wasn’t enough to get them a win.
But there was still time. And just like this Lakers season, which seemed dead in December, the Lakers kept going.
With 0.8 seconds left in regulation, James hit a high-arching bank shot to force overtime, and with extra minutes to make the previous four quarters right, James and Anthony Davis took over, scoring the Lakers’ first nine points in a 117-111 overtime victory over the Grizzlies.
“Us just figuring out a way,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.
James punctuated things with a driving score to seal it in overtime, howling and flexing at the crowd with the win about to be in his grasp.
The Lakers now travel to Memphis, where they will have a chance to end the series with a victory in Game 5 on Wednesday.
James finished with 22 points and 20 rebounds, a career high in any game, regular season or playoffs. It’s the first postseason 20/20 game by a Laker since Shaquille O’Neal did it in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Monday, a moment when the Lakers’ first-round series could swing in one direction or the other, had to be played mostly in staccato. There were too many fouls, too many missed shots and too many mistakes to provide the game with meaningful flow.
That meant the Lakers and Grizzlies had to win moments to grab the minimal amounts of momentum that were available down the stretch.
D’Angelo Russell provided one of those stretches, hitting three three-pointers in short order in the fourth to energize the nervous crowd. Austin Reaves had it at moments, as did Jarred Vanderbilt, Dennis Schroder and Troy Brown Jr.
Reaves led the Lakers with 23 points as Davis could scratch together only 12.
But when the Lakers needed it, with a chance to take the lead in the final seconds with a 3-1 lead on the line, James and Davis couldn’t find the big play.
James did find a cutting Rui Hachimura, one of the stars of the first three games, with 10.8 seconds left, but Jaren Jackson Jr. quickly erased the dunk at the rim, with the Grizzlies scoring in transition.
But the clock hadn’t expired and finally, with 0.8 seconds left, James got the hoop.
Desmond Bane led Memphis with 36 points, but the Lakers held All-Stars Morant and Jackson to 33 combined points on 13-for-39 shooting.
For most of the regular season and especially down the stretch, the Lakers made up for so many of their offensive deficiencies by getting to the free-throw line, where they led the league in attempts by a big margin.
The Lakers attempted 26.6 free throws per game, and their 20.6 makes were second only to Philadelphia.
For the first time this series, the Lakers eclipsed that 26.6 mark in attempts, getting their 27 times in Game 3.
Monday, they took 31, the trips stacking in the second half as the Lakers fought back.
The start for Davis mirrored Game 2, when he was almost entirely ineffective on the offensive end with the Lakers aggressively trying to get him the ball from the tip.
After starring in Game 3, Davis regressed with the Grizzlies holding him without a field goal until the second half.
Compounding problems, Davis went to the floor hard after missing at full speed in transition, landing on his right side in the second quarter. He grabbed at his right hip for the remainder of the half. Luckily for the Lakers, they didn’t need Davis, James or Russell to do a lot of the offensive work early.
“You’ve got to have a short memory,” Ham said. “… And he just kept fighting through.”
In the final four-plus minutes of the first half, the Grizzlies pressured the Lakers by turning up their defensive pressure.
The Lakers missed their last seven field goals of the quarter as the Grizzlies closed within two.
The Lakers fought back to tie the score on Hachimura’s corner three, but Morant beat the buzzer with a one-handed slam over Hachimura to keep Memphis in front, setting the stage for James and the Lakers to grab control.
Now, they’re on the cusp of advancing because of James’ heroics.
“He’s nothing short of amazing,” Ham said.
This story originally appeared on LA Times