PHILADELPHIA — A buzz began circulating in one corner of the Wells Fargo Center, the type of commotion that usually pops up when there’s a fight in the stands.
This, though, wasn’t a skirmish. Instead, it was LaVar Ball waving his arms and egging on Philadelphia 76ers fans to keep booing him from where he and his family sat in a box suite.
Philadelphia has a new enemy, and that’s the Ball family.
Booing Lonzo Ball just about every time he dribbled the ball and then going at it with LaVar, Sixers fans had The Center feeling as lively as ever. And the play on the court was just as electric.
The Los Angeles Lakers built a 16-point third quarter lead, only to squander it late in the fourth. But with the game tied at 104-104, Ball drove baseline before finding a wide open Brandon Ingram for a game-winning 3-pointer with eight-tenths of a second remaining to lift the Lakers to a 107-104 victory. It was the first game-winning 3-pointer by the Lakers since then-Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell‘s 3 against the Timberwolves in April. The Lakers (9-15) snapped a five-game losing streak by upsetting the Sixers (13-11).
Ben Simmons finished with a triple-double, with 12 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds, while Joel Embiid scored 33 points. But Ball nearly had a triple-double of his own with 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds to go with four blocks and three steals. Ingram scored 21 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had six assists to go with his first game-winner of the season. And Julius Randle was terrific down the stretch with 16 points, giving Embiid and the Sixers fits off pick-and-rolls.
The Lakers and Sixers have played each other twice this season, and both encounters have proved, if nothing else, that these two teams play some entertaining highlight basketball when on the court together.
Because the Lakers and Sixers played their two regular-season games against each other before the New Year, the NBA will likely have to wait another year before it gets to see this year’s Nos. 1 and 2 draft picks face each other. Ball did not get to play against top pick Markelle Fultz because of Fultz’s shoulder injury.
Ball had one of his worst games of the season when the Lakers lost to the Sixers in Los Angeles on Nov. 15. He shot 1-for-9 overall, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range, and had just two points, two assists and five rebounds in a nationally televised game. Ball was so disappointed in his play, he went to the team’s practice facility hours after that game to shoot instead of his usual postgame routine at home of rewatching the game.
This time around, Ball played much better. Booed in the first half almost every time he touched the ball, Ball flirted with his third career triple-double. He had 10 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals through the first three quarters alone.
But Simmons was better, compiling his third career triple-double well before the game was over. Count Ball as a fan of the way Simmons plays. Both rookies pass first, rebound and would rather not shoot from the perimeter.
“First off his size, at the point guard position, you don’t see that and he knows his game,” Ball said. “He doesn’t let anybody tell him to get away from his stuff. He does what he does and helps his team win every night.”
“I feel he plays the right way,” Ball added. “As big as he is, he can probably go to the rim and shoot every time. He is a great passer, rebounder and does all the little things.”
While Simmons was filling up the box score, Embiid got off to a slow start compared to the last time he saw the Lakers. The Sixers’ big man looked like a new-age Hakeem Olajuwon, crushing the Lakers with an array of dizzying moves in Los Angeles, where he dropped a career-high 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks. On Thursday, Embiid still was a force, particularly in the fourth quarter, when he drew a foul and hit two free throws to tie the game at 104-104.
But Ball drove amid a chorus of boos before hitting Ingram for the game-winner — and in the process, allowing the Lakers to halt their season-worst five-game losing streak in dramatic fashion.