“Right now, I don’t give a damn about the 56,” James said. “I’m just happy we got a win. That was the first thing that came to my mind. We needed pretty much all of them. “
James shot 19 for 31 from the field, 6 for 11 on three-pointers and 11 for 12 from the free throw line, adding 10 rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes. His 56-point outing di lui marked the most points he has scored since joining the Lakers in 2018 and tied for the third-most he has scored during his 19-year career. The four-time MVP also matched Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young for the most points scored in a game this season.
“There was really nobody on their team who could do anything with him,” Russell Westbrook said of James. “He forced his will of him and had his hands on the game on all levels. It was really big, especially in a game that we needed to win. “
Both the Lakers and the Warriors – who were without Anthony Davis and Draymond Green, respectively, due to injuries – turned to small ball lineups to compensate for the absence of their frontcourt stars. James took advantage of the spread floor that resulted, driving to the hoop and then stepping into three-pointers when the Warriors tried to encourage him to shoot.
James scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, hitting three consecutive three-pointers in a 76-second span to give the Lakers a 100-97 lead with a little under eight minutes remaining. After the Lakers staved off a potential Warriors rally in the closing moments, James hugged Stephen Curry, shared a laugh with Davis and left the court with a wide smile. Golden State (43-21), mired in a slump of its own, lost for the fourth straight time to slip to third in the Western Conference standings.
“An incredible performance by the best to ever do it, in my opinion,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said. “It’s remarkable, his will of him. … He puts in the work to beat people over the top [with his shooting]. They know they’ve got to load up the paint on him. He’s made the transition at this point of his career to be a guy who can be a laser from deep. “
For his career, James has now tallied 13 50-point games, ranking second among active players and seventh all-time, trailing Wilt Chamberlain (118), Michael Jordan (31), Kobe Bryant (25), James Harden (23), Elgin Baylor (17) and Rick Barry (14).
James, who turned 37 in December, also became the fourth-oldest NBA player to score 50 points, trailing only Jamal Crawford, Jordan and Bryant. Remarkably, James delivered his latest 50-point effort nearly 17 years after his first di lui, which came when he was a 20-year-old member of the Cleveland Cavaliers in March 2005.
“I’m trying to break any narration about a guy at this age or this number of seasons,” James said. “This league has changed three or four different times for how teams play since I entered in 2003. It’s been paint dominant when I first came in, a lot of bigs you just throw the ball in the post and watch them work. A few years down the line, it became a lot of pass and cut. A few years later, it became very pick-and-roll heavy. Then [Curry] entered the league and it became three-ball, three-ball, three-ball.
“You’ve got to be able to adjust. If you cannot have a growth mind-set on how you can get better with time, you’ll get left behind. I’ve always wanted to have a game that fits any style of play or any era. “
If James maintains good health and his current level of scoring productivity, he will move past Karl Malone for second place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list later this season and unseat Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for first sometime next season. With the Lakers (28-35) facing constant health concerns this season, James has responded by averaging 29.4 points per game, his highest mark di lui since 2009-10.
Yet when it came time to deliver the dagger against the Warriors, James found Carmelo Anthony for a three-pointer in the right corner with 34 seconds to go.
“[Scoring] has never been a No. 1 option for me, ”James said. “I came into this league understanding what team basketball is all about. The importance of the pass. The importance of your teammates feeling comfortable out on the floor. I was just brought up that way. My little league coaches taught us the right way to play basketball. The word ‘ball hog’ is something we despised. “