LOS ANGELES — After the Lakers failed to protect a 17-point lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on Monday, eventually losing 116-115 on a buzzer-beating 3 by Indiana Pacers rookie Andrew Nembhard, first-year coach Darvin Ham took the blame.
“That falls on me,” Ham said of L.A.’s lack of organization on offense down the stretch, when the Lakers shot 8-for-22 (36.4%) in the final frame. “That falls on me. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
LeBron James went 2-for-8 in the fourth. He was unable to halt Indiana’s momentum, and his teams’ all-time record of 403-1 when leading by 17 or more points in the fourth, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information, added another unlikely loss. The only other time it had happened in his career came when his Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Atlanta Hawks after blowing a similar seemingly safe lead on April 9, 2017.
Ham said he was OK with the execution by James, who finished with 21 points on 8-for-22 shooting (3-for-10 from 3) and seven rebounds despite turning his left ankle in the first quarter.
“Those are looks he normally makes, so the ball just didn’t happen to go in tonight,” Ham said. “I’m totally comfortable with him shooting those shots.”
James credited Indiana point guard Tyrese Haliburton (24 points, 14 assists, zero turnovers) for his “cerebral” play in leading the Pacers to a comeback.
“Everything has to go wrong in order for you to lose a game like that, and everything went wrong,” James said. “And you got to tip your hat to Indiana. They kept fighting. They kept pushing.”
With the Pacers trailing by two with 2.6 seconds left, Haliburton corralled an offensive rebound that jetted out to the perimeter off a Myles Turner miss. Haliburton quickly identified Nembhard open on the opposite wing and sped him a pass for the 3 to win it.
“We messed up a coverage to start, and that’s how Myles Turner was able to get the open 3,” James said. “We had already messed up the coverage to start. So that’s why we were in scramble mode after that.”
James ran out to the 3-point line to contest Nembhard’s last-second look, but it was too late.
“NBA players, they make shots like that,” James said. “So give him credit.”
The loss wasted a solid night from Russell Westbrook (24 points on 10-for-18 shooting, six assists, six turnovers) against the team he has been attached to in trade rumors for months.
However, Ham said the team became too reliant on Westbrook’s hot hand in the second half and fell out of rhythm.
“We can’t be in situations where we’re throwing [him] the ball and everyone is standing and we’re dribbling out the clock, dribbling out the clock,” Ham said. “Now we’re waiting on someone to go one-on-one versus the world. That’s tough. That’s a huge responsibility to have to score in those situations.”
Anthony Davis (25 points on 9-for-15 shooting, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks) continued his hot streak but got only two shot attempts in the fourth quarter, making one.
Davis said he was focused on passing out of double-teams late and sounded less concerned with his shot total than he was with the shot selection of others.
“[That] team was ready, in my opinion, ready to quit,” Davis said of Indiana. “We let them back in the game. Started messing with the game. The start of the fourth quarter, some tough shots led to some transition buckets — mainly 3s.”
The Pacers went 6-for-13 from 3 in the fourth, including the winner from Nembhard.
And Davis said the accountability for the loss belonged to others besides Ham.
“It’s not just on him. It’s on us too,” Davis said. “I mean, we got enough years in the league for the guys that were on the floor late game to execute. Obviously, he’s a coach, you take the blame. But it’s on us players to go out there and execute.
“We know what we’re doing. We’re talented enough and smart enough on the floor to win a basketball game like that. … So it’s not on him.”