With 9:59 remaining in the fourth quarter of Monday's game against the Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers big man Wenyen Gabriel slammed home a dunk that put the purple and gold up by a score of 101-84. No lead is insurmountable in the NBA, but a 17-point advantage with under 10 minutes to play is about as close as it gets. According to ESPN's win probability chart, the Lakers had a 99.1 percent chance to win the game and move to 8-11 on the season at that point in the game.
And then Indiana scored 32 points in under 10 minutes. The Lakers put up a measly 14. The Pacers clawed their way back into the game with a barrage of 3-pointers and their best defense of the night, but when LeBron James dropped a floater through the basket with 20.9 seconds remaining, it looked as though the Lakers would still be able to escape with a 115-113 victory. The Pacers missed multiple attempts on their final possession, but they saved their best for last. As time expired, Andrew Nembhard sank a 3-point to secure a 116-115 win over the Lakers.
In a way, it almost felt like the reverse of the miracle 3-pointer Matt Ryan made to save the Lakers against the New Orleans Pelicans earlier in the season: a hail mary from a team with no business winning getting answered and swinging the outcome. Of course, New Orleans can afford a shocking defeat. The Lakers cannot.
Their recent 5-1 stretch represented the first positive momentum of the season. A win over the Pacers would've brought the Lakers within three games of .500 and just one of the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference. More than that, a victory would have been symbolic considering the opposition. The Lakers have been negotiating a possible trade with Indiana for months now. Myles Turner and Buddy Hield both struggled for the Pacers. Russell Westbrook, for the most part, was excellent for the Lakers. A victory might've bought the Lakers a few days out of the rumor mill.
Instead, they just suffered their most devastating defeat of the season. It was only weeks ago that the Pacers were trying to convince the Lakers to take two of their best players off of their hands in exchange for draft capital as the apparent start of a rebuild. That same team, winners of eight of their past 10 games, just overcame a 17-point road deficit in a back-to-back to stun the Lakers. It's hard to imagine the season sinking any lower, but given their recent history, I'm sure the Lakers will find a way.