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 egging on a battle, waving his arms and provoking Philadelphia 76ers fans to keep booing him from his box suite where he and his family sat.
Philadelphia has a new enemy, and that’s the Ball family.
“Lonzo loves to be booed,” said LaVar, who insists he was doing it to fire up his son.
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 it has been in years. And the play on the court was just as electric.
The Los Angeles Lakers built a 16-point, third-quarter lead and led by 15 with 11 minutes, 15 seconds to go, only to squander with under three minutes remaining. But with the game tied at 104-104, Ball drove right 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.
Lonzo Ball kicks the ball out to Brandon Ingram who makes the 3-pointer to power the Lakers to a win over the 76ers.
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) also snapped a five-game losing streak by upsetting the Sixers (13-11) in a thriller that had you wishing that these two up-and-coming teams of the future played each other a lot more than just twice a season.
“They really took a big step as far as winning in a tough I mean that environment out there was awesome,” said head coach Luke Walton, whose team finally curbed its turnover problem with just three turnovers in a frantic fourth quarter. “It felt like a playoff game with how loud it was. But our guys did a great job of staying composed even once we started bleeding some points and finding a way to win that game.”
Ben Simmons finished with his third triple-double, with 12 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds, while Joel Embiid scored 16 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter to nearly lead the Sixers all the way back.
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, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the fourth, giving Embiid and the Sixers fits off pick-and-rolls.
“I pulled him out. Every time I pull him out he gets pissed off,” Walton said of sitting Randle midway through the fourth. “I pulled him out for a quick minute, put him back in and he uses that anger. He used that anger pretty well. I just hope he never catches on to it.”
The Lakers and Sixers have a lot of catching up to do to the best teams in the league, but their encounters this season have proved, if nothing else, that these two teams play some entertaining basketball against one another, and that the future is bright for both franchises.
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 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.
“I knew it was going to be like that,” Ball said of the booing from the Sixers fans. “[The crowd] was crazy. When they called our names they were going after us.”
He added, “Last time we played Philly [in L.A.] I just washed it away.”
Simmons and Ball both put their similar mentality on display by passing first, rebounding and preferring to 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.”
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, saving his best for last. He scored eight points in the last 5:27, including two free throws to tie the game at 104-104.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that just as Embiid got cooking with five minutes to go, LaVar Ball got the Sixers’ crowd all riled up. Lonzo Ball said all he heard was a point when the Sixers’ faithful ramped up the sound in the arena as the home team was making its comeback.
The rookie point guard ultimately silenced the arena when he drove amid a chorus of boos, passed up an open shot before hitting Ingram for the game-winner and, in the process, allowed the Lakers to halt their season-worst five-game losing streak by topping The Process in dramatic fashion.
“Lonzo made an incredible drive,” Ingram said. “He had a closeout on Joel Embiid, and he easily could’ve shot that 3-pointer. He was wide open. He drew in the defense, kicked it to me, and I just knocked down the shot. I had the confidence to take the shot, whether good or bad. I felt like it was a good shot.”
Afterward, an ecstatic LaVar Ball could be heard down the hallway, where the locker rooms are, talking loudly from a nearby tunnel.
“When you go into somebody else’s house and jump on their couch and leave, it feels good,” the elder Ball said loudly. “It is just how it is. But hey, everybody got to be friendly now. The game is over.
“Let’s go get some Philly cheesesteaks! We out here.”