LOS ANGELES (AFP) — LeBron James scored 31 points as the Los Angeles Lakers won a thrilling duel with the Phoenix Suns, 106-103, to advance to the semifinals of the National Basketball Association’s in-season tournament.
James produced a trademark clutch fourth-quarter performance with 15 points in a victory that sends the Lakers into a semifinal showdown with the New Orleans Pelicans in Las Vegas on Thursday.
In the other quarterfinal battle, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard combined for 63 points as the Milwaukee Bucks advanced to the semi-finals with a 146-122 rout of the New York Knicks.
But the game of the night was unquestionably in Los Angeles, where James and the Lakers held off a ferocious second-half fightback from Kevin Durant and the Suns to prevail in a classic.
The Lakers dominated the first half to lead by 12 at the break, up 59-47.
But the Suns roared back in the third quarter, outscoring the Lakers 35-24 to make it a one-point game heading into the fourth.
The 38-year-old James though was in no mood to surrender victory and found his scoring touch to shepherd the Lakers over the line.
Austin Reaves nailed a superb three-pointer to give the Lakers a four-point advantage with 15 seconds on the clock.
Durant cut the gap to two points with a reverse layup but missed with a last-gasp attempted buzzer beater that would have forced overtime.
“I’ve been there a lot in my career and I understand the assignment,” James said of his ruthless fourth-quarter display.