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Let the Games Begin!

Photo/Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

After downing the Pelicans in a tense road game, the Lakers move on to a rematch with the defending champs.

The stage was set, the fans were ready, the tensions were high and the Lakers found themselves in yet another play-in tournament game. Even with the early start the atmosphere coming from the arena was nothing short of electric. They were facing the New Orleans Pelicans for a ticket to the playoffs. 

The key factor throughout the game was the battle at the rim. As the game commenced the Lakers had a bit of play-in jitters they had to shake off, which led to some minor fundamental mistakes. After the first 2 minutes, they became more aggressive. 

To increase the dramatics, at the end of the first quarter things began to get chippy between the Pelicans’ Jose Alvarado and the Lakers’ own D’Angelo Russell. The refs, as we have seen countless times this season, then chose to make a questionable call. After Alvarado pushed too strongly into Russell’s chest, a double technical was assessed because of D’Lo responding with clapping and a smirk…yes….a technical because of a clap and smirk.

Photo/Associated Press

The momentum began to shift shortly afterwards. Once the second quarter was underway the Lakers began to tighten up offensively and execute. After being down 10 points, LeBron James took matters into his own hands and, LeBron being LeBron, within a few minutes the lead was down to  a single point. That was the energy boost this team needed!

Shortly after, bodies were at the right place defensively, scrapping for rebounds and loose balls and making things happen! The effort on defense began to translate offensively. Gabe Vincent had an impact on both ends, a beautiful sight that Laker fans have not seen in a while. The Lakers were flowing and ended the half on  a 13-0 run, putting them up by 10.

The theme of the third quarter was aggression. The Pelicans came out with a quick game plan but loose hands, turning the ball over six times which allowed the Lakers to extend the lead by 3. The Lakers’ court vision was on full display during a beautiful connection between LeBron James and a cutting Austin Reeves for an easy 2 halfway through the quarter. The purple and gold must have had some of MJ’s magic water at halftime, because their positioning on defense was phenomenal, trapping and sacrificing their bodies!

While the Pelicans continued to struggle offensively, going scoreless for nearly 5 minutes, Williamson took matters into his own hands and tried take over the game. The Pelican’s finally found a small spark of light, they ran with it to end the 3rd on a 19-8 run, with in the Lakers lead being cut in half to 7.

In the final 12 minutes both teams came out flat, until Vincent got open to receive a pass from LeBron for a three-point play at the rim. The next time down, D’Lo showed his composure and hit a three (also assisted by LeBron) to extend the lead to 11. The Pelicans came back down and attacked the rim, but in doing so Alvarado hurt his ankle. As the Lakers continued with a quiet score, the Pelicans picked it up and their leader took the reins.

They hit back-to-back buckets, a quick 2 from Zion and a transition 3 from Murphy III. After a miss from LeBron on one end, they transitioned into a big shot by Alvarado – cutting the Laker lead to 4 and, with 5 minutes left in the game, sinking every Laker fan’s heart. But hey, what’s a playoff game without some drama?

Zion Williamson got another bucket off an alley-oop to tie the game at 93 with 3:30 left. A play later, he took it to the rim and came down hurt. New Orleans called a timeout that found Zion, with clear frustration, going the locker room to be further evaluated. The last 2 minutes then turned into a brutal back-and-forth battle. D’Lo had a timely steal and pass to Reeves who found AD under the basket for a layup. With .53 seconds left it was a one-point game, and the crowd was into it as the Pels rallied.

Photo/Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

With the Lakers in possession, Reaves drove down the lane, kicked out to D’Lo in the corner, and drained a 3 to put the Lakers up by 4. After a Pelican timeout, McCollum hit a mid-range 2, cutting it down to 2 points with .38 seconds left. While Anthony Davis had a quiet night offensively, he picked up a huge rebound to get the foul and hit both free throws, putting the Lakers up by 4 with .14 seconds left.

In the end, the Pelican’s last hope was to send their former star Davis to the line again in hopes he would miss two. However, AD sank both free throws to secure the Laker win! While the game was closer than it should have been and had a sprinkle of drama, anxiety, and frustration, the Lakers still punched that golden ticket.

That’s all folks, 7 Seed Secured! Now, the new season begins next week as the Lakers take on the defending champions, the Denver Nuggets. Let the games begin!

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