LOS ANGELES — Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors played the foil in the most notable bounceback of LeBron James‘ career back in the 2016 NBA Finals. On Saturday, they were subjected to another classic “desperation” performance by James.
James scored 56 points, his highest-scoring game ever with the Los Angeles Lakers and tied for third-highest in his 19-year career, and L.A. rallied from a 14-point deficit to win 124-116.
The Lakers, whose grasp on even a play-in tournament berth has become precarious as they’ve tumbled down the standings, snapped a four-game losing streak with Saturday’s win, in which James set a slew of records.
“Our guys were following me off the floor tonight going into the locker room and they asked me, ‘How does it feel to score 56?'” James said. “I said, ‘Right now, I don’t give a damn about the 56. I’m just happy we got a win.’ That’s just literally the first thing that came to my mind.”
James hadn’t even finished his postgame on-court interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters before being doused with water bottles by Stanley Johnson and Kent Bazemore. It was the first time in a while the team has had a reason to celebrate.
Asked to describe the night, James told Salters his effort as well as the Lakers’ were fueled by “desperation.” He added his team played “inspired,” and he was pleased to have it play out at Crypto.com Arena before L.A. goes on the road to play 10 of their next 13 games for the rest of the month.
“For us to get a win like this in front of our home fans, they deserve it,” James said. “We haven’t been playing like much of anything as of late, so it was good to get a win in front of them.”
The win still only brought the Lakers’ record to 28-35, leaving them in ninth place in the Western Conference. But it did keep them a game ahead of the No. 10 New Orleans Pelicans and three games up on the No. 11 Portland Trail Blazers.
“We’re in an adjustment phase, and we’re trying to figure it out and find some footing,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of L.A. dealing with the absence of Anthony Davis, who has been out the last 2½ weeks with a midfoot sprain. “And hopefully this is the win that changes that momentum.”
James’ output was another reminder of just how little his hold on the league has changed as his career creeps toward the two-decade mark.
Along the way to completing his masterpiece against the Warriors, he made 19-of-31 shots from the field and 12-of-13 free throws, while adding 10 rebounds and three assists.
He became the oldest player in NBA history to register 55-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in a game and joined Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jamal Crawford as the only other players to have scored 50 or more in a game past age 37.
It was the 13th 50-point game of his career, which is seventh all time, and his teams have won the past 11 games he has reached the 50-point plateau, tied for the third-best such streak of all time — behind only Rick Barry (13) and Wilt Chamberlain (12).
James and Chamberlain are also the only players in league history to score 55-plus points for multiple franchises, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information. Chamberlain did it for the Warriors, Lakers and 76ers, and James has now done it for the Lakers, Cavaliers and Heat.
He did so a day after the airing of the latest episode of his roundtable barber chair discussion show, “The Shop,” in which James discussed his frustration with his perceived lack of respect as a scorer.
“When they talk about the best scorers of all time, they never mention my name,” James said on the show, which aired on YouTube. “It pisses me off.”
James certainly reminded everyone of his scoring knack in the win. The outburst upped his season scoring average from 28.8 to 29.4 points per game, putting him a hair behind Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (29.5) for the league lead. If he can capture it, it would be the second scoring title of James’ career.
In addition, on the night he passed Karl Malone for the second-most minutes all time (regular-season and playoffs combined), he drew within 209 points from passing Malone for No. 2 on the all-time scoring list.
Vogel credited James’ continued dominance on the star’s adaptability. James rattled off how the NBA has changed since he came in as a rookie in 2003 — first catering to centers posting up, then pass-and-cut sophisticated offenses, then pick-and-roll all the time and now, since Curry came along, “it became 3-ball, 3-ball, 3-ball.”
It should be noted that James went 6-for-11 from 3-point range on Saturday, whereas Curry — James’ old Finals foe, whom he came back to beat for the title in 2016 after being down 3-1 — was 4-for-9.
“You got to be able to adjust, man,” James said. “And if you cannot have a growth mindset on how you can find ways to get better with the team, then you’ll get left behind. I’m not saying I’ve changed my game in any way. I’ve always just wanted to have a game that fits any style of play or any era. I feel like my game would fit any era in basketball history from the time that the great James Naismith created it.”
As for that acknowledgement as an elite scorer that James believes is eluding him, his longtime friend and current teammate, Carmelo Anthony, added some additional perspective.
“He can’t get everything,” Anthony said with a laugh.