Dennis Schröder sneaked in from behind, slapped the ball loose and got the steal — maybe the biggest stop of the Lakers’ season.
The layup and the following free throw — those were maybe even bigger.
Short-handed and, well, just short against the towering Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers absorbed every push from one of the best teams in the West.
When will LeBron James become NBA’s all-time leading scorer?
A look at LeBron James’ pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time scoring record.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar points: 38,387
LeBron James points: 38,127
Points from record: 261 points
Projected games until record: 10
Projected record date: Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
But they never buckled. And as a possible tying free-throw from Brandon Clarke bounced off the rim, the Lakers did the improbable.
Somehow, on a night when LeBron James struggled and the Grizzlies seemingly grabbed every possible rebound, the Lakers left the floor as winners, beating Memphis 122-121 and ending its 11-game winning streak.
“A hell of a game,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.
The win caps an eventful home stretch where the Lakers lost tight games to Dallas, Philadelphia and Sacramento while they played without Anthony Davis, Lonnie Walker IV and Austin Reaves.
The only other win came against Houston.
“We’ve shown what we can be and what we can do,” Ham said.
But Friday’s game encapsulated so much of Ham’s message during the last eight days — keep working, keep fighting and a breakthrough will come.
Russell Westbrook scored 29, James fought to get 23 and Schröder finished with 19, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Memphis got 22 points from Ja Morant but he needed 29 shots — the Lakers stopping him as he tried to make a tying shot with Westbrook defending.
“I know I’m a very good defender,” Westbrook said.
The win comes as more good news could be on the way.
The Lakers can pretend to stay coy, trying to remove some of the pressure of a timeline and limit the possibility of disappointment should there be a setback.
But all signs continued to point to an eventual Davis return next week — a crucial step for the organization as it tries to sort out its future.
According to sources with knowledge of the plan, should Davis remain pain-free in his rehabilitation from a trio of foot ailments, he would return to the court next week in Los Angeles before the Lakers leave on a five-game trip against the Celtics, Nets, Knicks, Pacers and Pelicans.
The Lakers have not publicly set a timetable for Davis’ return.
When he returns, the Lakers will have critical ground to make up, good teams coming onto the Lakers’ home court and leaving with tight wins. But Friday’s win over the Grizzlies showed the Lakers could get over the hump against top competition.
The Lakers hung with the Grizzlies after Memphis broke out after a super-slow first quarter, but the NBA’s best defense smothered the Lakers and made every basket feel earned.
With no Davis, Memphis feasted on the offensive glass, outscoring the Lakers 39-22 on second-chance points.
It could’ve — probably should’ve — meant a loss. Instead, it meant momentum.
Davis has missed 18 games with a combination of foot injuries including a bone spur and a stress reaction in his right foot. Before his injury, he was averaging 27.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.1 blocks. Without Davis this season, the Lakers are 9-12.
Pregame, Ham wouldn’t detail any of Davis’ recovery plan other than that he was scheduled for a “1-on-0 workout” Saturday.
“He’s responded well. Very well,” Ham said pregame. “He’s progressing along as has been anticipated with the plan that was put in place and he’s trending in the right direction.”
Getting Davis back — and keeping him on the court — should give the Lakers clarity as they head toward the Feb. 9 trade deadline trying to figure out how aggressive to be.
“We’ve maintained throughout the process there’s no timeline.” Ham said pregame. “And we’re just throwing different things at him.”
The Lakers should have news on Walker IV shortly as he gets his knee re-evaluated Saturday. Reaves, who is out with a hamstring injury, is set for his re-evaluation in a week, Ham said, saying Walker is closer to a return.
The Lakers and the Grizzlies played a physical half of basketball that almost extended into the half. Grizzlies players confronted former NFL tight end and Fox Sports host Shannon Sharpe at halftime. Sharpe then had an argument with Tee Morant, Ja Morant’s father.
Sharpe was escorted to the back by security before returning to his courtside seat for the second half. Tee Morant and Sharpe embraced before the start of the fourth quarter.
The fight on the court, especially down the stretch, was even more fierce — the Lakers outsized and outmanned as they clawed for every loose ball.
And when they needed one most — a stop and ultimately a win — they managed to do it.
“You don’t know you can do it unless you can do it,” Ham said. “… It goes a long way for our spirit, our mentality and our togetherness.”