On Wednesday night at STAPLES Center, the Los Angeles Lakers escaped with an odd 108-107 victory with Brook Lopez acting as the hero on a night when the veteran center scored 27 points and stepped up to hit the game-tying and game-winning free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining.
Wednesday's game started with the Lakers seeming to forget how to play defense and falling behind by 15 points early.
"We weren't engaged in the fight," Lakers coach Luke Walton said regarding the slow start from his team. "(The Magic) were playing more physical than we were. They had 22 points in our paint in the first quarter."
Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 28 points on the night and started by throwing down a couple highlight dunks. At one point in the opening quarter, Gordon had 12 points to match the Lakers' 12 points as a team.
As would be expected, the Lakers tightened up and began to get into their groove. LA closed the gap to single digits by the end of the quarter and entered the second period trailing by single digits.
In that second quarter, LA's defense came to life, as did Isaiah Thomas' jump shot. Thomas would make three of his four long range attempts in the first half and also managed to combine well with Ivica Zubac and Julius Randle. Thomas entered the intermission with nine points, two rebounds and two assists in 10 minutes, which helped cover up a couple forgettable turnovers the backup point guard committed.
In the third quarter, Lonzo Ball caught fire and hit his first five shots after only shooting 1/7 in the first half. In addition, Ball made a spectacular defensive play where he ran in a full sprint down the court and managed to catch up to Jonathan Isaac and save two points. On the play, Ball managed to simultaneously display his under-rated athleticism, as well as his heralded basketball instincts.
"That's just a winning play," Walton said about Ball's play.
The coach added, "When he plays, he makes winning plays all over the court."
In addition to Ball, starters Kyle Kuzma and Randle had already tabbed double-doubles by the time the fourth quarter began. Randle finished the night with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Kuzma added 20 points and 10 rebounds in a solid performance for the rookie.
By the end of three quarters, the Lakers led by two points.
In the fourth quarter, Thomas began to control the tempo with Kuzma and Brook Lopez building on their earlier offensive outputs. Thomas finished with 13 points and nine assists, tabbing six of those assists in the fourth quarter.
With Lopez and Kuzma both topping the 20-point mark, the Lakers jumped out to a 12-point advantage with 5:20 remaining in the game.
"It felt like we started playing like we had won the game a little bit," Walton remarked about what happened next.
Orlando would cut that difference to six points a couple minutes later. The Magic continued to claw and chip away at the lead until it was a four point difference at the one-minute mark. With 30 seconds remaining, the Lakers were hanging onto a one-point lead with momentum squarely on Orlando's side.
After Ball missed a three-point heave, Gordon increased his personal tally to a game-high 28 points on a running layup to give the Magic a one-point lead with only 5.0 seconds remaining.
"We don't know how to win yet," Thomas said after the game. "It's obvious. We have a young group. We're not executing down the stretch."
Facing a spirit breaking defeat and with the game on the line, Walton opted to toss the ball into Lopez, who had Thomas later referred to as "the best player on the floor tonight."
After making a strong move, Lopez got fouled and earned two clutch free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining. The first make tied the game, and the second one game the Lakers a lead.
With 0.6 seconds remaining, the Magic called at timeout to advance the ball and hoped to get a tip-in for the win. That's when this game turned bizarre. After the ball was tossed in and before any player had touched the it, the game clock expired.
After convening, the referees decided on a jump ball rather than having the Magic re-attempt the play because the ball was in the air when the the clock malfunctioned. As a result, a jump ball with 0.6 seconds all but guaranteed the Lakers a victory.
"I was initially upset because we stopped the play," Walton said about the ruling. "We go the deflection, so I was upset that happened. Obviously, when I heard the explanation, (Magic coach) Frank [Vogel] was a little bit more upset than I was. That is a tough rule. I was unaware of that rule."
Lopez, who won the jump ball to end the game, said, "That was bizarre. I guess we had the game-winning jump ball."