LeBron James overcame blurred vision Wednesday to score a 34-foot three pointer with under a minute left as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied from a first half deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors 103-100 and reach the main draw of the NBA’s West playoffs.
James, who said he could only see out of one eye, hit the game winner for the defending NBA champions in dramatic fashion as it came over top of Warriors superstar Stephen Curry with the shot clock expiring.
Moments before the desperate heave from well back of the three-point line, James had been fouled hard by Warriors Draymond Green while he drove to the basket.
James said he got poked in the eye which blurred his vision, but the four-time league MVP showed he is better with one eye than most players in the league with two.
“After Draymond fingered me in the eye I was literally seeing three rims. I just shot for the middle one,” said James, who had a triple double of 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
The victory gives the Lakers the seventh seed in the West playoffs main draw and a first-round matchup with the second-seeded Phoenix Suns in a series that begins Sunday.
The Warriors will get another chance to get into the main playoff draw, but they now must beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.
James and Green collided with just over two minutes left and the Warriors ahead 98-97.
The officials reviewed the play to see if it warranted a flagrant foul but after viewing the video decided to go with the lesser penalty. James, still smarting from the poke, made one of the two free throws to tie it 98-98.
James joked later that he would have a pirate patch on his eye after the game.
Instead, like a swashbuckling buccaneer, he stole a victory right out from under the Warriors’ noses.
“I have been poked in the eye before so I just tried to keep my composure,” said James.
It was a tale of two halves for the Lakers who were down 28-22 at the end of the first quarter and by 13 at halftime, 55-42.
The Lakers turned the tables in the second half, outscoring the Warriors 35-24 in the third quarter and then made better plays down the stretch in the fourth.
“They hit us in the mouth in the first half and we just had to respond and we did that,” James said.
Curry poured in a game-high 37 points for the Warriors who were one of the hottest teams in the league heading into Wednesday’s play-in game.
Golden State beat Memphis at home on the final day of the regular season to earn the eighth seed in the play-in tournament.
Canada’s Andrew Wiggins finished with 21 points for the Warriors while Green had two fouls and two turnovers in the last five minutes.
Green finished with five fouls, six turnovers and just two points.
“They made a run in the third quarter and we turned the ball over,” said Curry.
Anthony Davis scored a team-highs of 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers.
In the other play-in game, the Grizzlies earned the right to face the Warriors next by beating the 10th-seeded San Antonio Spurs 100-96.
Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas finished with 23 points and 23 rebounds for the Grizzlies in front of a pandemic-limited crowd of 7,019 at FedExForum arena in Memphis.
Dillon Brooks delivered a game-high 24 points and Ja Morant chipped in 20 for the Grizzlies.
Memphis, who won five of six contests to close out the regular season, are back in the postseason for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
The Spurs were eliminated from the playoff race for the second straight season after equalling the league record of 22 straight postseason appearances.
DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay scored 20 points apiece for San Antonio, who limped into the play-in tournament after losing four consecutive games to finish the regular season.
Keldon Johnson added 11 points and 11 rebounds, Dejounte Murray contributed 10 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists and Jakob Poeltl had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs.