LeBron James scored 30 points as the Los Angeles Lakers muscled their way into the NBA playoffs on Tuesday with a thrilling come-from-behind 108-102 overtime victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Lakers clinched seventh seed and advanced to a Western Conference first-round playoff series against the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies starting on Sunday after a pulsating duel at the Crypto.com Arena.
The Timberwolves will have a second chance to reach the postseason when they face either New Orleans or Oklahoma City on Friday where the eighth seeding in the Western Conference will be up for grabs.
New Orleans and Oklahoma City face each other on Wednesday to determine who advances to that game.
“This is what our sport is all about -– getting to April and having an opportunity to play in the postseason,” the 38-year-old James said after the win. “We’ve been battle-tested all year and since the All-Star break we’ve been playing some good basketball.”
A nerve-jangling fourth quarter saw the Lakers battle back from a 10-point deficit to move to the brink of victory after James engineered a three-pointer for German international Dennis Schroder to put Los Angeles 98-95 ahead with just 1.4 seconds remaining.
But as the home crowd prepared to celebrate, Anthony Davis was called for a rash foul on Mike Conley as the Timberwolves veteran attempted a desperate game-tying late three.
Conley’s effort missed but he duly stepped up to drain three free-throws under excruciating pressure to knot the game at 98-98 and force overtime.
Yet the Lakers regrouped to start overtime with a flurry of points, Rui Hachimura’s three-pointer and a Schroder layup putting Los Angeles five points clear at 103-98.
The Lakers kept their noses in front and after a missed three-point attempt by Taurean Prince that could have tied it for Minnesota, the hosts closed out the win.
In Tuesday’s other play-in game, Trae Young scored 25 points as the Atlanta Hawks booked their place in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 116-105 win over the Miami Heat.
Atlanta’s bench combined to score 53 points to silence the Miami crowd and send the Hawks into a first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
Miami will now face the winner of Wednesday’s game between Toronto and Chicago to determine the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“We brought the physicality to them,” Young said after the win. “They’re known for being a very physical team and trying to bully a lot of teams on the defensive end.
“And if you don’t match their physicality you can get beat. Tonight I think we matched their physicality and it showed.”
Young led a superb all-round offensive team effort from Atlanta, who saw seven players finish in double figures.
Dejounte Murray posted 18 points, while Saddiq Bey added 17.
Atlanta took a stranglehold on the game after a dominant first-half display, outhustling a sluggish Miami line-up at both ends of the court to quickly open up a double-digit lead.
The Hawks moved nine points clear at the end of the first quarter at 36-27 and then accelerated away in the second to lead by 24 points at 63-39.
Only a late 11-0 Miami run to close the half -– Kyle Lowry taking his first-half tally to 19 points — kept the scoreline respectable but Atlanta nevertheless still reached half-time with a hefty 65-50 lead.
Young led the Atlanta scoring in the first half with 13 points and six assists, including one superb behind-the-back pass in the second quarter to set up a three-pointer for Bey.
Clint Capela also delivered a huge defensive performance for Atlanta, hauling in 21 rebounds and making two crucial blocks in the first half to stymie Miami’s offense.
Miami rallied to start the second half with a 13-4 run and closed to within five points at one stage in the third quarter.
But Atlanta were always able to raise the game at key moments to close out the win.
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