Lakers, LeBron James end the ‘Hallway Series’ in fitting fashion

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Mark Medina writes the final Lakers' road game at their home arena against the Clippers was a true classic.

LOS ANGELES — It appeared the LA Clippers would further solidify themselves as NBA championship contenders.

It appeared they would end their final regular-season home game at Arena against the Lakers with a win that would make them feel good about finally playing in their own arena next season.

It appeared they would make the Lakers more vulnerable with their possible play-off seeding, let alone chance to replicate last season’s run to the Western Conference Finals.

Then just like what he has done throughout his 21-year NBA career against swarming defenses and Father Time, LeBron James pushed back. Hard. James propelled the Lakers to a 116-112 win over the Clippers on Wednesday by helping them overcome a 21-point deficit in every way imaginable.

James posted a team-leading 34 points while shooting 13-for-21 from the field and 7-for-12 from 3-point range. He made five of those 3s in the fourth, while also setting up D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura with timely treys. And he also guarded Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard on the final play, which ended with him missing a 12-foot jumper along the baseline.

“I got to do what I got to do in the lineup,” James said. “When I’m on the floor, I got to make plays. Sometimes I’m going to need to make even more plays. Sometimes I’m going to have moments where I’m going to have to make even more plays in order for us to get back into the game and ultimately winning the game.”

Beforehand, Lakers coach Darvin Ham considered it “very special” that the Lakers would conclude their so-called “Hallway Series” in their final regular-season road game against the Clippers before they play in the privately funded Intuit Dome next season. Yet, the Lakers hardly gloated afterwards about evicting their co-tenants in such fashion.

Sure, the Lakers won the season series for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. They occasionally rolled their eyes at the Clippers for covering up their championship banners and retired jerseys since former coach Doc Rivers first initiated the idea in the 2013-14 season. Nonetheless, the Lakers have bigger priorities in play.

Not only might the ninth-seeded Lakers (32-28) face the fourths-seeded Clippers (37-20) finally extend the “Hallway Series” into an actual post-season matchup. Even with the Clippers missing forward Paul George (sore left knee) and center Ivica Zubac (illness), James called it a “great test” for the Lakers to show they could beat what he called “one of the best teams in the league.”

All it took was for James to help the Lakers overcome the largest fourth-quarter comeback in the his entire NBA career.

“Everybody is just pushing him on, cheering him on,” Ham said. “He had the cape tucked underneath the seat, I guess. It was time for him to whip it out. He definitely did that, put the cape on and just got aggressive.”

With the Lakers facing a 91-76 deficit to open the fourth quarter, Ham leaned on his star player (James), playmaking point guard (Russell), two wings (Cam Reddish, Taurean Prince) and athletic backup center (Jaxson Hayes). Though the Lakers normally try to beat opponents with paint points and the free-throw line, Ham instructed his players to shoot more 3s. Ham also ran what he called “point rub,” which entailed running sets so that the scorer could shoot over the team’s weakest defender.  

In just over three minutes, James already nailed three treys. He then set up Russell for an open 3, which he cashed in on a catch-and-shoot without even dipping into his stance. Just over a minute later, James made another 3 that cut the Clippers’ lead to 104-99 with 6:54 left. Afterwards, James admitted feeling “in a zone,” which he called his “superpower.”

“You feel like anything that you put up is going in,” James said. “For me, I just kept it consistent. I wasn’t taking ill-advised shots. I stayed in the course of the offense. When I was able to get the switches, I was able to get myself some space and get a couple more looks. So my teammates did a great job with continuing to find me. Then I just tried to dictate the tempo, dictate the game as we started making a run for it as we started to get closer and closer and closer.”

James shouldn’t be filling this job description. Not at 39 years old in his 21st NBA season. Not when he has nursed enough pain in his left ankle that he preemptively received treatment on it during All-Star weekend. Though Ham conceded uncertainty if James will play on Thursday against the Washington Wizards (9-49), James surprisingly is on track to log more games this season than his previous five years with the Lakers.

“Until I can’t do it anymore,” James said. “I’ve been put in the position throughout my whole career where I’ve had to do a little bit of everything throughout the course of the game That’s carried me into where I’ve still continued to stay humble, stay in the moment and stay the course throughout my 21-year-old career in.”

By staying the course against the Clippers, not only did James defy Father Time once again with a superstar performance. He helped the  Lakers give the Clippers a parting gift on their eventual way out of Arena.  

Mark Medina writes about the Lakers and Clippers for Sporting Tribune. Follow him on X, Instagram, Facebook and Threads.