April 21, 2024

LeBron James’ tongue wagged after he glided from right to left to bank in a runner off one foot. He shook his head after he drained another three-point shot.

And after the last horn, he held his hands in the air in celebration.

In the final Hallway Series showdown between the Lakers and the Clippers — unless the Crypto.com Arena co-tenants meet in the playoffs — the NBA’s all-time leading scorer ensured the meeting wouldn’t be forgettable

Despite the Lakers trailing by 21 in the fourth quarter, James brought them all the way back, and when they needed to get one last stop to ensure the win, James was there to meet the challenge.

Kawhi Leonard’s baseline jumper missed short with James’ hand in his face, the Lakers winning 116-112 on Wednesday night after it looked like a blowout loss was on the way.

Ten seasons ago, the Clippers and their coach at the time, Doc Rivers, hatched a plan to cover the Lakers’ championship banners to make the arena they share feel more like their home. Wednesday, one of those banners read “Give no quarter.”

No matter. James was there to take the fourth.

He scored 19 of his 34 points in the quarter while dishing out four late assists, the Lakers getting huge shots from Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell as they walloped the Clippers 39-16 in the final frame.

James scored or assisted on 11 of the 13 Lakers field goals in the fourth to wrap the Hallway Series era.

It felt like there would be some kind of resolution Wednesday.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue was frustrated, the team having lost two of three since the All-Star break. The Clippers had pushed to the top of the Western Conference earlier in the month, looking like one of the league’s title contenders.

But losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Sacramento Kings underscored slippage in execution and maybe some waning attention.

LeBron James beats Terance Mann for a basket in the second quarter.

LeBron James beats Terance Mann for a basket in the second quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Lakers coach Darvin Ham also was frustrated, the team also having lost two of three since the break.

A run to end the first half of the season had created momentum, the team looking like a threat to make the playoff field and avoid the play-in tournament. But losses to the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, plus a sloppy win against lowly San Antonio had the team trying to recapture rhythm.

The Clippers were looking to prove that their brief malaise was the kind of thing that happens to title teams — a let-up before refocusing for the final stretch.

And the Lakers?

“We needed one of these,” Ham said.

The Clippers, without All-Star forward Paul George and center Ivica Zubac, made a statement early, Terance Mann slamming a dunk over Anthony Davis in the opening minutes. And they reaffirmed it later, Kawhi Leonard walking into a three to extinguish a brief Lakers run in the second half.

But there was no slowing James, not as he ensured the Lakers won the season series with the Clippers for the first time since 2012.

Rui Hachimura of the Lakers dunks over Terance Mann.

Rui Hachimura of the Lakers dunks over Terance Mann.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Clippers’ defense never fully activated, and the Lakers shot better than 50% for most of the game. But the stops for the Lakers never materialized, the Clippers hitting shots too often and too easily, Norman Powell ending the third with a buzzer-beating three in front of Austin Reaves, who was helpless to do anything other than roll his eyes in frustration.

But in the fourth, James was otherworldly — the Lakers winning the potential final fight as the road team in their building.

“He left his cape under the bench,” Ham said.

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