TORONTO – When Scottie Barnes was growing up in Florida, he idolized the late Kobe Bryant.

But the Toronto Raptors rookie has a new appreciation for superstar LeBron James after the home side fell 128-123 in overtime to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.

The 37-year-old James was questionable because of left knee soreness. But he was deemed fit enough to play just before tip-off, scoring 36 points and grabbing nine rebounds to end the Lakers’ (30-40) three-game losing streak and halt the Raptors’ (39-31) five-game win string.

The performance from James spoiled Barnes’ career-high 31 points and 17 rebounds.

“I was a big Kobe fan,” the 20-year-old Barnes said. “They were rivals and stuff like that. But, of course, LeBron’s done so much for this game. Of course, a Hall of Famer. Someone that’s just so influential on this game that just paves the way for so many people.

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“Being big, athletic, like myself, being able to dribble the ball, doing multiple different things on the floor. Of course, he was influential for a lot of young kids like me.”

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James entered the game averaging 29.5 points per game, third in the league. He was good for 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, to the dismay of the 19,800 fans at Scotiabank Arena.

“Of course, he is going to come to play every night, hit tough shots, distribute the ball,” said Barnes, whose Raptors defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles 114-103 on Monday. “They played better than they played last game for sure.”

James wowed the crowd in the fourth quarter with two thunderous dunks and a pair of clutch three-pointers.

“What’s it like?” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said when asked about James’ performance. “I’m watching it just like you, to be honest with you. Obviously, one of the best to ever do it, we were on the wrong side of it tonight, but I think we can learn from it.”

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“He made a couple of really, really tough ones, and he got us back for a couple of times,” Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said. “Think the ball was really bouncing his way among other things tonight.”

Among other things was a reference to a few referee calls that went James’ way.

As good as James was on his latest visit to Toronto, the Raptors failed to close this game out in the fourth quarter. Gary Trent Jr. nailed a 26-foot three-point jumper with 26.1 seconds remaining to put the Raptors in front 116-113.
James and Russell Westbrook then missed three-point attempts, but a turnover from Raptors forward Precious Achiuwa gave Los Angeles life. Westbrook then drilled a three-pointer — his right foot was on the three-point arc, but he slid his foot back a few inches before he fired off his game-tying shot.

Late in overtime, Lakers guard Avery Bradley made a three-pointer with 32.5 seconds left to put his team up 125-123.

The Raptors had a chance, but Barnes was stripped of the ball by Lakers guard Austin Reaves. Barnes felt he was fouled.

“Listen, he’s gotta go through it,” VanVleet said of Barnes. “It sucks, it’s tough, you gotta be hard on yourself as he is, he’s a great young talent, and he’s growing every day.”

Five Raptors hit double figures in scoring. Trent Jr. had 23, VanVleet checked in with 20 points, followed by Achiuwa’s 18. Pascal Siakam chipped in 17 points.

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Barnes scored the Raptors’ first 10 points and caught the eye of James.

“I saw Scottie Barnes for the first time in the seventh grade,” James said. “I told one of my good friends he was gonna be special.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2022.

© 2022 The Canadian Press