Round 2 of Lakers-Clippers tilt in favor of Kawhi: Again

The Los Angeles Lakers can look at their 111-106 Christmas Day defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers as looking at the glass half-full or half-empty. If they see the glass as being half-empty then losing to the Clippers for the second time in two tries this season is certainly a cause for concern.

“With eight minutes left in the fourth quarter we weren’t attacking,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said. “We were shooting a lot of jump shots. They wanted it more. We had a lot of mistakes down the end of the game… mental mistakes on both ends of the floor. We fouled a lot in the fourth quarter and put them on the line. Really in the second half they made shots, but we still got some stops. We gave that one away.”

Lakers forward Anthony Davis
Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis shooting jumpers during warmup. Davis scored 24 points and had six rebounds in the Lakers’ 111-106 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, December 25, 2019. File Photo by © Mark Hammond for News4usonline

Regardless of what was being said after the game by both teams, this loss is going to sting the Lakers for a minute. The win by the Clippers will only solidify their status as a strong contender for the NBA title. Now, if LeBron James and his crew look at the loss as being half-full, then a healthy Kyle Kuzma will serve to bolster their chances to win the Western Conference.

That’s a long way to go, but Kuzma showed the Clippers and a nationally-televised audience that he is that third dimension the Lakers need to have a successful campaign and possibly make a deep postseason run. Kuzma scored a team-high 25 points in the Lakers’ loss to the Clippers.

This should be a good sign to come for the rest of the season for the Purple and Gold.

“This is what I look like when I’m healthy,” said Kuzma ” I’m confident in my body. Like I said, I’ve been hurt all year. This is the best I’ve felt and my play the last few games have reflected it.”

Copy that. Kuzma was just about unstoppable in the game’s first quarter, going toe-to-toe with Kawhi Leonard in a scoring battle. Kuzma scored 15 of his 25 points in the first period. Leonard, who wound up with a game-high 35 points, finished the period with 14 points.

Kuzma and the Lakers looked locked and focused in the first half, jumping out to a double-digit advantage by halftime.

LeBron James
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James nearly recorded a triple-double against the Los Angeles Clippers during a Christmas Day game played at Staples Center on Wednesday, December 25, 2019. James scored 23 points, dished off 10 assists and grabbed nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 111-106 defeat to the Clippers. File Photo © Mark Hammond for News4usonline

“I just think they came in better prepared,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “They were locked in. I thought they played harder than us in the first half. I thought they shot it better, but I thought we did that in the second half and down the stretch. I loved the way we played down the stretch on both ends. I thought we got the sets that we wanted every time down. I thought we had the matchups defensively every time down. I think having that small line- up with Kawhi [Leonard] at the four-spot was big for us.”

Whatever Rivers and his assistant coaches said at intermission to Leonard and the rest of his teammates, it apparently sunk in. The Clippers outscored the Lakers, 35-23, to even the score by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Both Kuzma and the Lakers went cold in the third quarter as the Clippers shot at a 55 percent clip to tie the ballgame.

James, who finished the game with 23 points and 10 assists, could only muster four points in the game-changing third quarter that saw the Lakers make only 39 percent of their shots from the floor. Anthony Davis, who played the entire 12 minutes in the quarter, generated just six of his game-totaled 24 points in the period.

The Clippers outscored the Lakers 25-20 to take the game and clinched their second of the season against their Staples Center rival. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said his team lacked offensive flow the final two-quarters of the game.

“Well, we fouled them [Clippers] every time down, so when you’re taking the ball in the net on a free throw it breaks your offensive rhythm,” Vogel said. “That’s where it started. A lot of possessions, especially in the fourth quarter, we didn’t execute well enough.”

Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers players Paul George (left) and Lou Williams (foreground) both didn’t have their usual stellar games against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Clippers, behind 35 points from Kawhi Leonard, defeated the Lakers, 111-106, on Wednesday, December 25, 2019. File Photo © Mark Hammond for News4usonline

If it comes down to the Lakers looking at their second defeat to the Clippers this season as half empty, dropping their fourth straight game, might be more of a concern. James is keeping the win drought that the Lakers are currently going through as its part of the process. His objective is for the Lakers to continue to make strides and improve as a team, he said.

“We just got to get better,” James said. “I said that even during the win streaks, the road streaks. You stay even-keeled throughout the whole season no matter what. No matter if you’re losing or you’re winning, because it’s a marathon and a new narrative can be made the next day or the next opportunity you get to go on the court. We’ll just continue to work on habits. I think defensively we got back to how we play defense tonight. Offensively, we have to be better. I had some late turnovers in the fourth quarter that were very costly and we missed a lot of our perimeter shots, including myself. We just have to be a little bit better.”

The final seconds hinged on whether or not James could convert a possible 3-point shot that would have forced the two teams to go into overtime. Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, ever the rock-solid defender, had another idea: end the game now with a defensive stop.

Beverley did just that, knocking the ball off James’ hands in the waning seconds to secure the win for the Clippers.

“It was great,” Leonard said. “It was big. I think we were up three [points] at that point and with ‘Bron stepping back, trying to shoot a three to tie the game, [Beverley] being able to get a hand on the ball and get us the possession, it was pretty much the game-winning play.”

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