LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James had no idea why he was so tired. He slept 11 hours overnight, missing his company Christmas party in the process, and then had a 2½-hour nap before the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against San Antonio.
Perhaps his body just knew he would need all that stored-up energy to hold off the Spurs during a frantic finish.
James scored 20 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter and Josh Hart hit two clutch 3-pointers in the final minutes of the Lakers’ fourth straight victory, 121-113 on Wednesday night.
Kyle Kuzma had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who lost Brandon Ingram to a sprained left ankle in the first quarter. Los Angeles still beat the Spurs for the first time in three tries this season, but only after James dramatically took control of another fourth quarter during his third 40-point game since joining the Lakers.
“It’s the fourth quarter, and my teammates look at me to make plays,” James said with a shrug. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way but I put that type of pressure on my back because I love my teammates giving me that responsibility.”
James went 7 of 8 from the field with three 3-pointers in the fourth, but he was quick to point out he had plenty of help from younger Lakers, even after Ingram went down. Kuzma scored nine points in the fourth, including a key dunk on a pass from James with 2:13 left, while Hart and Lonzo Ball both hit big 3s.
Everything added up to an impressive finish by the Lakers, who improved to 15-9 with their eighth win in their last nine home games.
“You just know” when James is about to take over a game, Hart said. “I’ve said it before. He’s the best ever to put on a uniform. When it’s happening, sometimes it’s amazing. People should stop criticizing, shut up and enjoy his greatness.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points and Rudy Gay had a season-high 31 before fouling out for the Spurs in the first of back-to-back games in three days to wrap up the season series between these longtime West rivals. They’ll meet again in San Antonio on Friday night.
“We made everything tough for them, (but) it got away from us in the fourth quarter,” DeRozan said. “Even though we were scoring, going back and forth, we couldn’t get those critical stops when we needed them, and that killed us.”
San Antonio held an eight-point lead in the fourth before James started a rally by scoring nine consecutive points. The Lakers hit seven 3-pointers in the final period while making 13 of 20 shots overall with one turnover.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Spurs, who have lost seven of 10.
“They made tough shots,” Aldridge said. “Guys competed and tried to keep guys in front of them, but they found the back side of the defense.”
Spurs: Longtime Lakers big man Pau Gasol didn’t get to play against his old team. He is out with a stress fracture in his left foot. … Davis Bertans hit three 3-pointers but also drew a technical foul in the third quarter. “I think I said one more word than I was supposed to,” he explained.
Lakers: Ingram had played at least 25 minutes in every game since he returned from a four-game suspension for fighting in Los Angeles’ home opener. … Ball had 14 points and nine assists, hitting three 3-pointers.
Ingram left midway through the opening quarter after getting hurt while Aldridge committed a flagrant foul against him. The Lakers’ third-leading scorer had X-rays that came back negative, but the Lakers seem to think he’ll miss additional games. “(Ingram) said they got him pretty good,” coach Luke Walton said.
The former No. 2 overall draft pick has been a key component of the Lakers’ starting lineup around James, providing length on the perimeter and improving his drives to the hoop.
BIG GAME FOR RUDY
Gay poured in 16 points during the third quarter of his highest-scoring performance for the Spurs and a personal best for the injury-plagued scorer since Jan. 5, 2016. He had just one basket in the final 10½ minutes before fouling out with 27 seconds left.
Spurs: Host the Lakers on Friday.
Lakers: Visit the Spurs on Friday.
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