LeBron James made a triumphant return to the court on Thursday, breathing new
life into the floundering Los Angeles Lakers with a 123-120 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
James, who missed 17 games due to a groin injury, scored a team-high 24 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and delivered nine assists in his first NBA game since Christmas Day.
Showing no sign of the injury that resulted in the longest absence of his 16-year career, James played 40 minutes and scored the go-ahead basket with 1:15 left in overtime after the Lakers blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
James called the 36-day absence some of the darkest days of his career.
“I worked my ass off to get back to this point,” James said. “It was the toughest stretch of my career not being out on the floor.”
Lance Stephenson added 20 points, Brandon Ingram added 19 points, and Rajon Rondo had 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who were officially the visiting team but had strong crowd support Thursday because they share the Staples Center arena with their city rivals.
“We got stops and we made some timely shots,” said James. “Everybody was huge. It is going to be different guys every night for our team. We are starting to get out depth back.”
Lou Williams scored a team-high 24 points and Patrick Beverley added 17 for the Clippers, who shot just 53 per cent from the free-throw line.