SAN FRANCISCO — LeBron James no longer has to go all out against Stephen Curry on the big stage, not even soon.
Anthony Davis blocks the middle and takes easy chances inside.
Dennis Schroeder has the energy to help chase No. 30 around the court. D’Angelo Russell can hit a big handed shot to the face.
That’s the thing about these fresh-faced Lakers — they put a lot of pressure on the game’s all-time scoring leader and LeBron believes in them, even as the defending champions go 14-0 as their fans cringe.
Davis had 30 points, 23 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots, James added 22 points and 11 rebounds in a duel with Stephen Curry in their last encounter of the postseason, and Los Angeles fended off a late wave by the Golden State Warriors to win an entertaining match. 1st place in the Western Conference Semifinals 117-112 Tuesday night.
“We’ve been playing playoff basketball for two and a half months now just to have us play around the clock so we can play now in the postseason,” James said. “We were very resilient tonight. … We know how great they are on their home turf, so to put up with that is another good move for a ball club. “
James’ 23 points was the third fewest in 23 playoff games against the Warriors. His career-low 27th win was in the 2016 Game 7 Finals.
Jordan Paul missed a three-pointer to tie it up with 9.7 seconds left as the Rally Warriors fell short in the dying minutes.
Curry 3 with 1:38 left to tie the game, then Russell hit right back before Curry’s shot was blocked by Davis moments later. James missed the first two free throws with 1:05 to go.
A Paul 3 with 2:48 left cut the Lakers’ lead to 112-109, and James was called to travel with 1:53 remaining.
For all-time scoring leaders James and Curry — who owns the most three-pointers of all-time and holds the NBA Finals MVP title — this is a new chapter in the stars’ long-running rivalry after they faced off in four consecutive NBA Finals from 2015- 2018 while James played for Cleveland.
Curry scored 27 points, splash brother Klay Thompson 25, and Kevon Looney grabbed a career-high 23 rebounds in his fourth game this postseason with 20 or more points.
He also had 10 points and five assists. Thompson made it 3 with 5:19 to cut the Lakers’ lead to 112-104.
The defending champion Warriors will even bid for the series in Game 2 Thursday night on their home turf at Chase Center, where Los Angeles fans can be heard chanting “Let’s go Lakers!” After the last bell.
Davis dominated from the start, making 9 of his first 10 shots, while Russell scored 19 points and had six assists against his former team.
“I thought AD had a great match. “Obviously he controlled, getting four shots and changing each other,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s what this team has been doing now for the last few months. They were one of the better defensive teams in the league for a reason and it’s a big part of that.”
James’ 3-pointer with 5:23 left put the Lakers ahead by 10, 86-76.
Then Thompson’s terrific behind-the-back pass led to a second Gary Payton dunk on James with 3:48 to go as he cut Golden State to 86-80 and forced a Lakers timeout.
The Lakers finished Memphis at six games Friday night and had two more days to recover to get ready as Golden State were pushed wide by the young Sacramento Kings and won Game Seven on Sunday.
The Warriors were the first champions to come from behind 2-0 and win a playoff series.
Curry went on to have a playoff career high 50 points, an NBA record 7 in a game.
Kerr said he believes his team has an advantage because they only played two days ago.
But the revamped Lakers have taken it to Golden State just as they have for their last three regular season encounters — and Los Angeles is a very different team than the one that lost 123-109 here on Oct. 18 to start the season.
“It was a quick turnaround but an unthinkable one,” Thompson said. “…So morale is not low. We know we let one of them slip through.”