LeBron James outduels Kevin Durant despite painful shin injury

LeBron James outduels Kevin Durant
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (left) and Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (right) AP

Late Friday night, LeBron James grimaced as he limped back to the visitor’s locker room at Footprint Center.

James, nevertheless, scored 32 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists to overcome Kevin Durant and lead the Los Angeles Lakers to their first in-season tournament victory, 122-119, over the Phoenix Suns. Not even a horrific shin injury sustained in the first quarter could ruin this night for James.

James and Durant fought in another spectacular match, with Durant coming out on top with 38 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. With 1:10 remaining, James found Cam Reddish in the corner for an open three that gave the Lakers a 118-113 advantage that Phoenix was unable to overcome. Durant had scored seven of his points in the fourth quarter.

With 4:22 left in the first quarter, James was forced to recover from an inadvertent strike to his left shin from Durant’s knee while driving to the basket. James had to take a moment to gather himself at the baseline before receiving treatment and stretching for his shin on the bench.

James reported that following the game, the injury was still uncomfortable and that he was somewhat limping. The Lakers return home on Sunday to play Portland.

Regarding the shin, James stated, “It never loosened up.” There and then, [it] pretty well locked up… In order to play the game and be effective, I attempted to maintain my composure, check that I was okay, and try to keep it as relaxed and stretched out as possible.

Quite sore at the moment. It’s obviously quite uncomfortable now that the adrenaline is reducing and the area has been cooled.”

In addition to being their first-ever in-season tournament match, the Lakers (4-5) desperately needed this victory to end a three-game losing streak during this four-game road trip.

In an attempt to get the club going, head coach Darvin Ham switched up the starting lineup, starting Reddish (17 points) and moving Austin Reaves off the bench for the first time this year.

“Everybody agreed that we needed to change up the music a little bit,” Ham stated. Austin wasn’t demoted in any way. It was merely a repositioning. Does anyone recall those legendary San Antonio teams where Manu [Ginobili] was a starter and everyone knew it? However, in order to keep your lineup balanced, you occasionally need to use a player of his caliber in a reserve capacity. This way, you won’t be completely out of the game when the starters take a breather. You’ve got the second unit balanced.

Reaves and Ham discussed the move on Thursday night. In response, the swing player made six of eleven field goals and finished with seven assists and fifteen points. Reaves had started every game since the previous season’s March 22.

“I’m a competitor,” Reaves declared. To be honest, I don’t want to have that discussion. Would have loved to win as a team and avoid such debates if we had been playing better. However, I learned early on from my parents that the coach is the coach. And whether you agree with his judgment or not, you have to respect that. I carried that out. We had a great back-and-forth discussion on how we could improve as a team since, ultimately, winning matters most.

… I comprehend. The writing is visible on the wall. I could have predicted it. I haven’t performed well. I’ve occasionally played games. Furthermore, we haven’t played well as a team. Of course. Up until today on this road trip, we were 0-3. Additionally, [we] required some agitation.

The Lakers converted twelve of their twenty-seven 3-point attempts, and on this trip, they had impressive second-chance performances. With 1:10 remaining, the Lakers gained three offensive rebounds on what was arguably their best possession of the game. James then found Reddish for a corner three to put the Lakers up five.

In the fourth quarter, the Lakers scored five triples to outscore the Suns 33–23.

“I think it’s the first time that we finally got over the hump as far as this road trip,” added James. …” After we managed to get one of those momentum shots at last, I thought the floodgates opened [early in the fourth quarter] and players really began taking them down.

We have been losing a lot of our games because we have been playing from behind and haven’t been able to grab the lead in some of the later games. Thus, it was a pleasant sensation.

When questioned about Phoenix’s defense at the end of the game, James—a major Ohio State supporter—also managed to poke fun at Jim Harbaugh, the head coach of rival Michigan and the Wolverines.

James couldn’t help but take a little potshot at Michigan and Harbaugh, who received a one-year suspension from the Big Ten in the midst of an NCAA probe into the university’s in-person sign theft.

When questioned about facing Phoenix’s defense, James responded, “I think us having a knowledge of Coach [Frank] Vogel and his coaching staff.” We are aware that he will rotate defenses and that he employs a variety of defensive packages and strategies. All you have to do is try to follow the game and figure out what quarter they are in—first, second, third, and so on. We’ve worked with Coach Frank in the past, so we can sort of follow his blueprint and also pick his brains.

The fact that we were able to get those signals in tonight and still play on Sunday is the finest part about tonight, so that was crucial to our victory. Unlike that team up north, we don’t get suspended.

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