LOS ANGELES • With LeBron James missing another National Basketball Association (NBA) game to nurse his ankle back to full health, the Los Angeles Lakers had Talen Horton-Tucker to thank on Tuesday for showing "big guts".
The 20-year-old drained a clutch three-pointer in the closing seconds of overtime as the NBA champions snatched a thrilling 101-99 win over the New York Knicks.
His 24-foot effort with 21.1 seconds remaining sealed a battling victory and prevented the Knicks (38-31) from clinching their first play-off appearance since 2013.
"He's got big guts and he showed that with that shot," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "He had a young player type of night with good and bad plays. He kept his poise though and remained confident."
It was the dramatic final act of a pulsating clash at the Staples Centre, which saw the Knicks' former Lakers player Julius Randle dominate for long periods with a 31-point display.
Randle looked to have given the Knicks the edge with a superb three-pointer of his own from 25 feet which put the visitors up 99-98 with just over a minute remaining. Derrick Rose stripped the ball from Horton-Tucker on the ensuing possession, but a crucial travelling call against Randle moments later surrendered possession to the Lakers, allowing Horton-Tucker to grab his game-winning shot.
In a game that saw 23 lead changes, the Lakers guard made the most of his second chance with former Chicago Bulls star Rose guarding him. Horton-Tucker, a Chicago native, had mentioned earlier in the season that he grew up idolising Rose, 32, as they went to the same high school.
"Not too many kids from Chicago can say they did that," said Horton-Tucker, who scored seven of his 13 points in overtime.
Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers' scoring with 23. Anthony Davis added 20 points while Andre Drummond had 16 points with 18 rebounds.
Randle, meanwhile was backed by Rose, who had 27 points.
The victory means the Lakers' faint hopes of securing an automatic play-off place are still alive, with three games remaining.
QUALIFIED FOR PLAY-OFFS
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles are seventh in the Western Conference with 39 wins against 30 defeats, behind the Dallas Mavericks (40-29). The top six teams advance automatically to the post-season.
The Lakers are hoping to have James back for the final stretch.
"We know the position we are in. We are playing desperate. That is all we can do," Davis said. "This win is a confidence booster for us. If LeBron comes back tomorrow, hopefully we can get him acclimated and back in the rhythm. We want him to get healthy and be ready for the play-offs."
In Boston, the Miami Heat provided more evidence that they are hitting form at the right time with a 129-121 win at the Celtics to book their play-off place.
Last year's NBA Finals runners-up Miami (38-31) punched their ticket with a victory that saw Tyler Herro finish with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Five other Miami players finished in double figures, with Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson adding 22 points each. Jimmy Butler, who left the game and did not return after being poked in the eye in the first half, had 13 points.