LOS ANGELES — As sick as LeBron James felt entering Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans — bedridden by a virus that even caused him to miss the team’s Halloween party — he is surely would have felt sicker if the Los Angeles Lakers had blown a 16-point lead and fell to 1-6.
Turns out Matt Ryan was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Ryan hit a 3-point corner on an accurate cross pass from Austin Reaves at the end of regulation, and LA held on in overtime 120-117 to win their second game in a row.
“Today was the first day I got up since Sunday night,” said James, who finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. “Something’s going on, and it kind of hit me. It hurt a lot to miss the Halloween party with all my guys on Monday.”
While James missed the festivities, the Lakers dressed up as a successful team in their last two games after starting the season 0-5.
And the clouds have parted slightly for a team that has already had more than its fair share of injuries and roster scrutiny to start the season.
“My confidence is, when it comes to shooting, it’s unwavering,” said Ryan, who was 2 for 8-for-3 the day before hitting the big one. “I mean, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.”
Coach Darvin Ham said he requested the game go back to Ryan, who was a DoorDash delivery driver before playing in a game for the Boston Celtics last season. He came to the Lakers as a guest of training camp and earned a partially guaranteed contract thanks to his outside shooting performance during the preseason.
“I just felt in my stomach that [the Pelicans] I know Matt is a threat to pull him, but I would use him as a kind of decoy for someone else,” Ham said. “But the piece was definitely meant for him. Austin threw a hell of a pass.”
The Lakers wouldn’t have been in this position if they hadn’t missed five straight shots in the final minute and a half of the fourth quarter before Ryan shot. And if not for a bit of luck, too. Pelicans rookie Dyson Daniels missed two free throws with 1.6 seconds left, which could have frozen the game. If he had made even one out of two, Ryan’s shot would have been pointless.
“We didn’t deserve to win this game, so thank you to the Lakers, they did what they had to do,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said.
Time will tell if the mini-win streak is a sign of bigger things to come for the Lakers or a brief respite in a season full of nightly battles in the Western Conference. At this point, Los Angeles’ next opponent on Friday, the Utah Jazz, are 6-3 despite trading their two All-Stars to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in the offseason.
There won’t be many easy nights, and many results could come down to something as tiny as a Daniels free throw or a Ryan 3.
“Just keep that feeling,” Anthony Davis (20 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks) said in the key for the Lakers to build on their current momentum. “I just kept fighting, trying to stay in that moment where I remember what winning feels like. We want to keep doing that.
“It’s starting to click, finding things. Finding rotations, finding situations where we were really good. And the guys are staying ready, coming in and playing well. We’re starting to put everything together.”