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NBA

LeBron Cost The Lakers

11:56 AM EDT on May 19, 2023

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

In a lot of ways, what the Denver Nuggets did in that fourth quarter would've demoralized any team in the league. They got hot at the right time, with Jamal Murray scoring 23 in the fourth, and all the threes that weren't falling all game were suddenly going down with ease. The Lakers mucked up both games enough to steal either one, but they have been missing just a bit of extra juice to get them over the line.

This is excusable. After all, the Lakers are overachieving a bit here. Despite the trade deadline changes that made them a playoff-caliber team, they are still a thin team lead by a 38-year-old superstar and an inconsistent big man. Both LeBron James and Anthony Davis have expended big minutes throughout the playoffs, playing 40 or more in almost every game, usually every other day. And if you've watched James these past few seasons, his age really starts to affect even that computer brain of his as fatigue sets in. All of these things about Thursday night's 108-103 loss are understandable and acceptable.

But what is beyond the pale is what happened with just over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. With the Lakers still up by three and holding on for dear life, James inexplicably just kept shooting bad threes for multiple possessions.

To watch the Lakers play is to be both frustrated and impressed in equal measure, and last night was a great example. It was impressive that they controlled that game for as long as they did, and it was frustrating every time any of them took a shot from beyond the arc. There is no Laker you really trust in that position (Austin Reaves comes the closest); even when they actually do go in, you expect it not to. But James has probably been the worst at it throughout the playoffs. Whatever deal with the devil he made to be so clutch at free throws all of a sudden must have taken away the streakiness of his three-point shot, because he's completely lost it while still insisting on trying. But what happened in that sequence was beyond terrible.

The first three attempt was frustrating enough, the second was insanity, and when he did it a third time in a row, I strongly considered investigating him for point-shaving. Maybe he's been gambling with his buddy Drake and they're both in too deep with the sharks or something. At any rate, the Nuggets capitalized off this stupid series of plays and went on their run, and even though the Lakers got back in it, the game was essentially done from this moment forward. The Nuggets are too good to turn it off after a momentum swing like that.

The closest thing to a sensible argument for what happened here is basically those brain farts mentioned earlier. LeBron James is exhausted, and therefore doesn't want to attack the basket all the time—he's trying to pick his spots. But the reason why Laker threes are almost always bad (beyond the fact that they're all streaky as hell on this team) is they are almost always desperation plays. They either come way too early in the shot clock or way too late, after not being able to find a better shot. The missed dunk is whatever, silly shit happens in NBA games, but these were just egregious. And because James is in the twilight of his career, everyone is just impressed he even got to this point, so they didn't ask him about this momentum-swinging sequence of events after the game. The closest anyone came to addressing it was when reporters asked if fatigue was playing a role in these losses, which it clearly is. To which James, of course, gave a non-answer answer: “If you’re not tired in the postseason... I mean, everybody’s tired.” Sure. But everyone isn't near 40 and still the co-leader of a playoff team.

Whatever. The Nuggets are obviously better and the Lakers are kinda playing with house money even being in this series in the first place. But it's fair to call out LeBron James for costing his team by playing dumb basketball, after spending most of his career being the smartest player on the court. He blew his team's comeback in Game 1 with an unnecessary three and he did it again here with three of them in a row. He bleeeew it! His legacy is set in stone, it's fine, but at the very least he could take some responsibility.

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