LeBron James missed a game-tying layup with just seconds remaining as the Los Angeles Lakers suffered an upset 104-102 defeat to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.
James looked poised to force overtime at the Staples Center as he drove towards the basket with the Nets holding a two-point lead.
But James fluffed his effort and then Anthony Davis missed an open three-pointer as Brooklyn held on for a win that ended the Lakers’ four-game winning streak.
It was a dramatic finale to a see-saw battle between the Western Conference-leading Lakers, who have already clinched a postseason berth, and the Nets, who occupy the last of the Eastern Conference playoff spots.
James led the scoring for the Lakers with 29 points and 12 rebounds with nine assists, while Davis finished with 26 points.
Brooklyn however proved equal to the challenge with Spencer Dinwiddie adding 23 points and Caris LeVert 22 in a dogged Nets performance.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Jayson Tatum scored 30 points and Gordon Hayward finished with a double-double as the Boston Celtics punched their ticket to the playoffs with a 114-111 win over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.
Tatum made 11 of 22 shots from the field including a trio of three-pointers as Boston dug in for the win after twice letting big leads slip late in the game.
The Celtics looked to be cruising towards the playoffs after opening up a 16-point early in the fourth quarter. But a late Pacers rally led by Victor Oladipo closed the gap to 104-101 before T.J. Warren levelled with a three-pointer.
‘We needed it’
Domantas Sabonis made it 106-104 to Indiana with a driving layup and drew a foul to add a free throw for a three-point lead. Boston however finished strongly with Marcus Smart leading the fightback to set up the Celtics win.
Hayward’s double-double included 27 points and 10 rebounds. The Celtics join the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers as teams who have confirmed their place in the playoffs.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was relieved to see his team dig in for the victory after blowing their fourth quarter lead.
“We probably needed it,” Stevens said. “We needed something like that to happen – go down by three and then find a way to win.
“It’s probably a good thing for our team in the long run. We’ve got to get better in the middle of quarters and at the end of quarters but we probably needed that tonight. It was hard and that’s a good thing. We’ve been really good for the most part in the fourth quarter. For whatever reason we just haven’t been as good lately, let some leads slip away. I was glad we found a way to win tonight.”
The Celtics are now third in the Eastern Conference behind the Bucks and the Raptors with 43 wins against 21 losses. The Pacers are fifth in the East with a 39-26 record.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the Houston Rockets maintained their playoff push with a 117-111 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook were the standouts for Houston, with 37 points and 27 points respectively.
Point guard D’Angelo Russell led the scoring for Minnesota with 28 points. The Rockets are sixth in the Western Conference with 40 wins and 24 losses.
In other games, the Golden State Warriors were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after being routed 131-107 by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Kawhi Leonard had 23 points for the Clippers in the win, which left the Warriors languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with 15 wins against 49 defeats.