Lakers-Thunder Game 3: L.A. wins free throw contest by a lot, wins game by 3

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Forty-two free throws is a lot of free throw attempts. Forty-one free throws made is a lot of makes. The Lakers got one, made the other, and walked out of Staples with a win in Game 4, 99-96.

We can talk about a lot of things. The way that the Lakers attacked the Thunder defensively, once again doing damage to Russell Westbrook who has been unable to find his jumper since Game 1. We can talk about Pau Gasol giving more effort even if he wasn’t that assertive offensively. We can talk about Kobe Bryant hitting one clutch shot late (and missing two with a turnover), and all his free throws. We can talk about a Lakers defense that on two key plays forced the ball out of Kevin Druant’s hands and into Serge Ibaka’s, and then forced a tough 30-foot three-pointer.

These were all part of it.

But really? It was the free throws, a 42-28 advantage for the Lakeshow.

Good, bad, ugly, they were what they were. You can argue that the league hates small markets and that the Lakers won because David Stern pushed some magical button. You’ll be an idiot, but you can say that. You can argue that the Lakers were more aggressive and earned those calls. But considering the Lakers drew six shooting fouls in the second half to create 27 free throws and that the Thunder drew six shooting fouls to create 14, it doesn’t really hold up. You can argue it was the Lakers’ size advantage, but the fact don’t bear that out, nor do they bear out that they were all bad fouls.

The officials lost control of this game early, during an early game scuffle between Russell Westbrook and, you guessed it, Metta World Peace, and spent the rest of it trying to gain control. And when that happens, ticky-tack perimeter fouls are called. And the Thunder were working for open shots, while the Lakers were driving to draw contact. It worked. Kobe Bryant absolutely worked over James Harden in drawing fouls on routine contact in a playoff game.

You can’t say the officials decided the game, but you can definitely look at them as the biggest weapon used.

The Lakers did get a number of things to go their way Friday night. Ramon Sessions finally contributed. Steve Blake hit two huge shots in the second half. Metta World Peace played terrific defense. Andrew Bynum was a defensive force, even if he went 0-6 in the second half from the field. They played well enough to win, when Kevin Durant’s desperation three wouldn’t go down. And they hit 41 of 42 free throws, which is just nuts and takes a world of mental discipline.

So now what? Now we get Game 4 on a back to back. Will the Lakers have the energy to keep up with the young Thunder on a back to back? Will playing two games on the road wear on the Thunder? Will the disappointment of this game, one they could have had if they had just fouled slightly less, haunt OKC into a sluggish performance? The Lakers are only down 2-1 with a chance to tie the series at home. They looked dead in the water just hours ago. But it’s funny what a few dozen trips to the line will do for you.

All of a sudden, the Lakers are getting the breaks those great Lakers teams get. And they’re taking advantage of them. Game 4 is Saturday.

Physical therapist: LeBron James should have missed six months

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The Lakers initially called LeBron James day-to-day with the groin injury he suffered on Christmas.

He missed more than five weeks.

Maybe he should have sat even longer.

Karen Joubert, via Complex Sports:

Maybe LeBron returned too soon. This injury allowed that, even if it put him at risk of reaggravation if not fully recovered.

Maybe LeBron just healed especially quickly. Even among world-class athletes, he is an elite athlete.

Maybe Joubert is exaggerating. People tend to do that with LeBron’s body.

There’s plenty of room for interpretation, but it sure looked like LeBron was still hobbled.

What does this mean for LeBron and the Lakers going forward?

The pessimistic spin: LeBron did lasting damage to his body by returning so soon. This (failed) attempt to get the Lakers into the playoffs this season will undermine him in the future.

The optimistic spin: LeBron has still been excellent these last few weeks. If he gets fully healthy during his longest offseason in 14 years, he should be even better next season.

Kyrie Irving on whether returning to Cleveland means something to him: ‘Not at all’

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Kyrie Irving spent his first six seasons with the Cavaliers. He developed into a star with them. He won a title with them, even hitting the championship-winning shot.

With Irving’s Celtics playing in Cleveland tomorrow, Irving reflected on his time there.

Jared Weiss of The Athletic:

Irving is so clearly over the Cavs.

He was probably over the Cavs even while playing for them.

Lakers fan barely moves net while making halfcourt shot (video)

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The Lakers have had a rough season.

Last night went pretty well, though – especially for one fan.

The Lakers beat the Kings, and this fan swished a halfcourt shot to win $45,000.

CJ Fogler:

The Lakers need more outside shooting. Maybe they could turn to some of their fans.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drives past/through all the Cavaliers for dunk (video)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is undeniable.

Watch this video. He’s the only Bucks player in sight on the court. All five Cavaliers appear. Antetokounmpo dunks anyway.

He dribbles past Jordan Clarkson then through David Nwaba and Tristan Thompson. Nik Stauskas and Brandon Knight are shading close enough to narrow his potential path. None of it matters.

Antetokounmpo scores inside unlike anyone anyone we’ve ever seen.