LeBron James had the last laugh within the last second against Dillon Brooks.
James made the game-winning free throw after an ill-advised steal attempt by Brooks on an inbounds pass gave the Lakers star a straightforward path to the basket that led to a foul.
James made the second of two free throws to provide the Lakers a 105-104 lead and Brooks’ half-court heave missed to seal the Los Angeles victory.
“I liked how we battled back and kept fighting. We just didn’t play smart at the tip,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said.
It was the crucial moment in a heated matchup between the rivals.
Earlier in the sport, James was walking past Brooks after a foul had been called and James prolonged his elbow out to push the Houston forward away and was assessed a technical.
The battle between the 2 continued when James hit a floater late within the third quarter to provide the Lakers an 81-75 lead, and hit Brooks with the “too small” celebration as several of his teammates on the bench joined in as well.
The rivalry between the 2 goes back to last season in the course of the playoffs when Brooks was on the Memphis Grizzlies and went out of his option to goal James with several comments.
Brooks called the four-time NBA champion “old” and that he didn’t “respect nobody until they arrive and provides me 40 [points].”
Brooks went so far as to hit James within the groin during Game 3, earning himself an ejection.
Brooks, who signed a four-year, $80 million cope with the Rockets this offseason, has no regrets.
“No, I still feel the identical way,” Brooks told Fox Sports on Friday.
He has continued to embrace the villain role that he feels he has been solid in.
“It strikes fear into people,” Brooks said. “Once I start getting consecutive stops, they begin putting their head down and pouting. It’s only a mantra. Whoever looks into it on social media, they’re already losing. I just play together with it and keep playing basketball.”
Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem like having its desired impact on James, who finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and 6 assists.
In a single instance, James and the Lakers drew a foul and the NBA superstar had an emphatic celebration that included a “blunt” handshake.
It seemed to be a part of a special handshake that he shared with ex-Rocket Christian Wood.
The win was payback for the Rockets waxing the Lakers, 128-94, on Nov. 8 in Houston.
The Rockets and Lakers will face each other once more on Dec. 2.