LOS ANGELES — After the Lakers failed to protect a 17-point lead with less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter Monday, ultimately trailing 116-115 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Indiana Pacers rookie Andrew Nembhard, first-year coach Darvin Ham took the blame.
“That falls on me,” Ham said of Los Angeles’ lack of offensive organization down the stretch, when the Lakers went 8-of-22 (36.4%) in the final quarter. “That falls on me. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
LeBron James went 2-for-8 in the fourth. He couldn’t stop Indiana’s momentum, and his team’s all-time record of 403-1 when leading by 17 or more points in the quarter, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information, added another unlikely loss. The only other time it happened in his career was when the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Atlanta Hawks, losing a similar seemingly secure lead on April 9, 2017.
Ham said he was fine with the execution of James, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-22 shooting (3-of-10-for-3) and seven rebounds after spraining his left ankle in the first quarter.
“Those are looks he normally does, so the ball just didn’t go in tonight,” Ham said. “I feel totally comfortable with him shooting those shots.”
James credited Indiana point guard Tyrese Haliburton (24 points, 14 assists, zero turnovers) for his “brain” play in leading the Pacers to a comeback.
“Everything has to go wrong for you to lose a game like that, and everything did go wrong,” James said. “And you’ve got to take your hat off to Indiana. They kept fighting, they kept pushing.”
With the Pacers trailing by two with 2.6 seconds remaining, Haliburton corralled an offensive rebound that shot to the perimeter on a miss by Myles Turner. He quickly pinpointed Nembhard wide on the opposite wing and flicked him a quick pass for the three-pointer to beat the buzzer to win it.
“We missed a cover to start, and that’s how Myles Turner was able to get the open 3,” James said. “We had already blown coverage to start with. That’s why we were in scramble mode after that.”
James ran to the 3-point line to contest Nembhard’s last-second look, but it was too late.
“NBA players take shots like that,” James said. “So give him credit.”
The loss wasted a solid night for Russell Westbrook (24 points on 10-of-18 shooting, six assists, six turnovers) against the team he’s been linked to in trade rumors for months.
However, Ham said the team became too reliant on Westbrook’s hot hand in the second half and lost its pace.
“We can’t be in situations where we’re throwing [him] the ball and everybody’s on their feet and we’re dribbling the clock, dribbling the clock,” Ham said. “Now we are waiting for someone to go 1 on 1 against the world. That’s hard. It’s a great responsibility to have to score in those situations.”
Anthony Davis (25 points on 9-of-15 shooting, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks) continued his hot streak but made only two shot attempts in the fourth quarter, hitting one.
Davis said he was focused on double-teaming late and seemed less concerned with his shot total than with the shot selection of others.
“[That] The team was ready, in my opinion, ready to quit,” Davis said of Indiana. “We let them get back in the game. He started playing with the game. Early in the fourth quarter, some tough shots led to some transition baskets, mostly 3-pointers.”
The Pacers went 6-for-13-for-3 in the quarter, including game-winning Nembhard.
And Davis said the responsibility for the loss belonged to others besides Ham.
“It’s not just up to him. It’s up to us, too,” Davis said. “I mean, we’ve got enough years in the league that the guys that were on the floor at the end of the game can execute. Obviously, he’s a coach, you take the blame. But it’s up to us, the players, to go out there and execute.” .
“We know what we’re doing. We’re talented enough and smart enough on the court to win a basketball game like that… So it’s not up to him.”