The Lakers have come away with a galvanising win over the Hawks as LeBron James made his most defiant and decisive closing gesture yet, dunking to bring Los Angeles to a one-point victory. No surprise then that the game was extremely close in the first quarter, despite a Rajon Rondo-assisted three point jumper from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finally bringing the Lakers to a fairly comfortable six point lead by the time the opening twelve act was up.
That said, the first couple of minutes were all Atlanta, as Taurean Prince got the pointscoring underway with a Kent Bazemore-assisted running pullup jump shot, and Bazemore making a pullup jump shot of his own twenty seconds later. With LeBron missing a three point jumper, Bazmore making two throws, and Trae Young netting a two point shot, the Lakers desperately needed Kuzma’s ball-assisted hook shot to build some early momentum and prevent the away team getting too far ahead.
The next part of the game was largely driven by Alex Glen, who missed a two point shot, and then had another two point effort blocked by Brandon Ingram – a classy defensive gesture for the Lakers that was followed by LeBron stealing the ball from Prince, and then making a flagrant free throw to bring the Lakers to three points. They were still six behind though, so a Ball-assisted three point jumper from LeBron and a ball-assisted dunk from McGee came in handy, even if Len got his own back with a steal from LeBron a minute later.
A series of misses from both teams and a Lakers full timeout led to a bit of a lull in pointscoring, but a McGee-assisted jumper from Josh Hart finally put the Lakers ahead, with a free frow from LeBron for good measure a minute and a half later. Hart and LeBron continued to dominated the pointscoring as the first quarter wound down, although a Lin-assisted alley oop from Prince was a pretty big statement from the Hawks as well, and led to a bit of a disheveled period for Los Angeles – a miss from Caldwell-Pppe, a miss from Hart and a personal foul for Lance Stephenson – that ended with a Plumlee-assisted layup from Jeremy Lin to narrow the Atlanta deficit to one point.
A pullup jump shot from Prince actually put the Hawks one point ahead, but a strong streak for Caldwell-Pope – an assist for a Hart three point jumper, and a pullup jump shot and three point jumper of his own, both assisted by Rondo – saw the Lakers close out the first quarter in style.
Nevertheless, by the time they finished the second quarter the Hawks had managed to muscle a point ahead, for what was quickly becoming one of the tightest games of both teams’ seasons. A series of exchanges gave Atlanta some new blood and energy at the start, especially in combination with a missed shot from Hart that gave Bazemore the platform to put down the first three points with a 27-foot jumper.
He might have missed a pullup jump shot a minute later, but the Atlanta shooting guard had provided the away team with a crucial burst of energy, and a pair of free throws from Stephenson were powerless to prevent Len, De’Andre Bembry and then Omari Spellman bringing Atlanta to a one point lead, with a second jumper from Len, assisted by Trae Young, extending the difference to three points. A solitary pair of two point efforts from Rondo and Ingram were all the Lakers could muster, as a missed jumper from LeBron led to a bad pass from LeBron, with Bazemore making the steal and adding two points at the end if it to bring the Hawks to 39-35.
For the first time in the game, Atlanta felt like contenders for the win, and yet that made them complacent, with a kicked ball violation from Len and a pair of personal fouls from Huerter and Spellman setting up a Rondo-assisted jumper from Ingram – the start of a gradual comeback that saw saw LeBron make a dunk and (perhaps more importantly) Bazemore, Huerter and Spellman all make misses or errors within the space of a minute.
The Hawks might have consolidated a bit in the final five minutes, but so did LeBron, making a Ball-assisted dunk and then assisting a two-pointer from Kuzma to bring the Lakers back into contention once again. As a result, the third quarter started more decisively for Los Angeles, with an opening LeBron jumper and a LeBron assisted three point jumper from Ball paving the way for what initially promised to be a string of Lakers buckets, only for Prince to put a sharp dent in the momentum with a pair of Young-assisted pullup jump shots three minutes in.
A bit of a messy period ensued for both sides, with Bazemore blocking a Kuzma layup and Kuzma missing a three point jumper shortly after, but Bazemore himself then making a personal foul that led to a Ball-assisted driving dunk from LeBron. A LeBron-assisted layup from Kuzma led to a full timout and series of exchanges for Atlanta, but it just seemed to empower LeBron, who followed up with a two point shot, a free throw and an assist for a Kuzma layup that was punctuated by a series of errors and misses for the away side.
Double free throws for both Ingram and Ball, combined with a three foot jumper from LeBron and a Chandler-Ball alley oop, saw the Lakers reach their most secure scoreline yet at 65-79 with three minutes on the clock. Despite a trio of Atlanta exchanges – Len for Lin, Bazemore for Plumlee, Spellman for Bembry – the Hawks couldn’t recover any momentum, as a missed three-point jumper from Spellman and a missed three-point jumper from Prince saw Ball steal the ball back for Los Angeles.
Admittedly, a bad pass from LeBron saw Prince recover the ball in turn, but even a late flurry of points from the Hawks couldn’t make much of a dent in the Lakers lead once Kentavious-Pope assisted a three point jumper from Stephenson and then made a driving layup of his own in the last two minutes to bring the scoreline to 75-84. Still, the Hawks had the last word, and a superb 27-foot three point jumper from Bazemore with five seconds on the clock made it clear that Atlanta were determined to fight when they returned to the court.
That’s just what they did, as Prince compensated for his disappointing end to the third act with a Young-assisted three-pointer, while Young made a three point jumper of his own thirty seconds later to bookend and contain a Hart-assisted three point effort from Stephenson. Both Prince and Stephenson now tried to consolidate with a pullup jump shot and three pointer respectively, but Prince seemed to have the last laugh, despite scoring less and coming first, so decisive had his recovery been over these opening three minutes.
No surprise, then, that the next points belonged to the Hawks, thanks to a tip shot from Len and a driving layup from Vince Carter, nor that Caldwell-Pope made one of the most flamboyant three point jumpers of the night, off a Rondo assist, in order to regain some momentum for the Lakers. Nevertheless, a further three points for Young necessitated a full timeout for Los Angeles, as LeBron, Ingram and Ball entered the game for Hart, Stephenson and Rondo respectively.
That fresh injection paid dividends immediately, since while the Hawks didn’t stop scoring, the Lakers now started to really match them, with a jumper from Hart, a dunk from McGee and a free throw from McGee futureproofing the team against successive efforts from Prince, Len and Young. A two point shot from LeBron at 3:44 was just the gesture of calm leadership needed to usher in the final phase of the game.
If the Lakers had lost, you would have probably said that this the tone of this late phase was set by LeBron now missing two three point jumpers, but the scoreline made LeBron’s subsequent steal from Prince feel like the defining moment. While both teams might have struggled a bit in this clutch situation, the Lakers rose to the surface, with a Hart-assisted two point shot from Kuzma, and a technical free throw from Kuzma, helping to settle the scoreline to 106-107 as the last minute arrived.
From there, a dunk from LeBron sealed the deal, ending a game that felt even more victorious for the Lakers given how hard the Hawks had fought to get themselves back into it. Los Angeles will be looking to consolidate their winning streak of the last three games, then, when they take on the Trail Blazers for the third time this season, in a match that should fare as a good litmus for test for how they deal with the Magic, Heat and Cavs over the following days.