LeBron James had the last laugh in 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 an easy path to the basket that led to a foul.
James made the second of two free throws to give 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 end,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said.
It was the crucial moment in a heated matchup between the rivals.
Earlier in the game, James was walking past Brooks after a foul had been called and James extended his elbow out to push the Houston forward away and was assessed a technical.
The battle between the two continued when James hit a floater late in the third quarter to give 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 two goes back to last season during the playoffs when Brooks was on the Memphis Grizzlies and went out of his way to target James with several comments.
Brooks called the four-time NBA champion “old” and that he didn’t “respect no one until they come and give me 40 [points].”
Brooks went as far as to hit James in the groin during Game 3, earning himself an ejection.
Brooks, who signed a four-year, $80 million deal with the Rockets this offseason, has no regrets.
“No, I still feel the same way,” Brooks told Fox Sports on Friday.
He has continued to embrace the villain role that he feels he has been cast in.
“It strikes fear into people,” Brooks said. “When I start getting consecutive stops, they start putting their head down and pouting. It’s just a mantra. Whoever looks into it on social media, they’re already losing. I just play along with it and keep playing basketball.”
However, it doesn’t appear to be having its desired impact on James, who finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
In one instance, James and the Lakers drew a foul and the NBA superstar had an emphatic celebration that included a “blunt” handshake.
It appeared to be 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 one another once again on Dec. 2.