PORTLAND, Ore. — Talk about second-chance points: A pair of putbacks were the perfect cappers to another wild Lakers comeback.
Thomas Bryant rose up from traffic twice in the final three minutes of Sunday’s game, slamming misses into makes for authoritative exclamation points on 31 points and 14 rebounds in 33 minutes of work.
Those last buckets, and an added 3-pointer from Troy Brown Jr., finished perhaps the most unlikely Lakers win of the season, a 121-112 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers after losing the second quarter by 32 points and trailing by as much as 25 points.
The Lakers seemed cooked. Smoked. Done. But this team, improving to 22-25, has a way of finding new life.
“We’re not a lay-down team,” James said. “That’s just not the makeup of our club.”
LeBron James led with 37 points and 11 rebounds, and Dennis Schröder added 24 points and 8 assists to help the Lakers outscore Portland 75-41 in the second half. It was the second-largest halftime deficit the Lakers have overcome in team history.
The Lakers had to take punches from Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons, who scored a combined 55 points. But by the end, Patrick Beverley – whose defense helped hold Lillard to 5 of 17 – was tapping his wrist, mocking Lillard’s famous “Dame Time” gesture to the crowd at Moda Center. He and the Lakers had earned the right to talk trash in a rally of historic proportions.
“I like to feel like I back my game up,” Beverley said afterward. “Not only just talking.”
No team has ever won a game after losing a single quarter by 32 points. The Lakers have only overcome a larger second-half deficit (28 points) once, in 2002 against the Dallas Mavericks.
The outset was as good a position as the Lakers have been all year. The team made their first six shots from the field, including a pair of James 3-pointers, on the way to an 18-4 lead. While the Trail Blazers eventually woke up and caught up, the Lakers still led by seven after the first quarter.
That quickly fell away in the second, when Portland rattled off a run fueled by nine 3-pointers and going 14 for 23 from the field overall. The Lakers only managed six field goals themselves, and their defense appeared hopelessly disoriented against the the Blazers’ shooting.
The defining moment of the lopsided second frame was a pair of shots just seven seconds apart. After Westbrook airballed a open 3-point attempt from above the break, Lillard casually pulled up from near the midcourt logo over Brown – and cashed it. James would add his own airball right before the halftime buzzer, condemning the Laker to a 45-13 second quarter.
It was the most one-sided quarter this season, according to ESPN – a new bottom from the Lakers’ own ignominious third quarter on Christmas Day against Dallas, when they were outscored 51-21. The frame ended on a dour note, with Portland ripping off 13 unanswered points before the intermission.
Coach Darvin Ham said the team didn’t even watch film in the locker room. They just talked about their flashes of brilliance – and how shiftless stretches like their second quarter have negated so much of their best moments throughout the season.
“We talked about that,” Ham said. “How long are we gonna watch the same movie?”
Apparently they had seen that sequence play out enough. Coming out of halftime, the Lakers found some missing fire – and James and Schröder led the way.
The duo spurred a 21-3 run while combining for 30 of the Lakers’ 40 points in the third quarter, and Portland couldn’t find a way to stay between James and rim. All six of James’ made field goals in the third were within the restricted area, and he supplemented those with free throw line appearances that kept chipping away.
Bryant was also a huge factor throughout the game, but made as much impact outside the paint as in: He was 4 for 5 from three as well.
The win could have hardly come at a better time: The Lakers were able to past the Blazers in the standings and move into 12th place, just a game back from a play-in spot and two games back from the 6 seed. With Anthony Davis potentially returning to action in the coming week, the team feels positioned to make a run at the standings.
Not that they’re waiting for Davis to arrive.
“I don’t want to get too excited, because I know what he brings to our ball club,” a grinning James said. “Right now I’m locked in on this ball club and putting them in position to be successful every night.”