LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – Whew! This felt like a playoff game. Up to this point in the season, both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers have splashed around in the mediocre department. But the second half of the first meeting of the season between the two Los Angeles teams had postseason vibes to it.
The fourth quarter, in particular, had the invites of a tense, wire-to-wire game that seemed to have playoff implications riding on it. At the end of the day, though, it was just one of the 82 games both the Lakers and Clippers will play during the regular season.
But it sure felt like there was a lot riding on this contest than just being one forgettable evening in December by the time spring rolls around. Every turnover, every missed free throw, every pass, and every three-point shot mattered. This was good basketball.
In the end, though, when the Clippers needed a bucket, they got it down the stretch. The Lakers outscored the Clippers 36-32 in the fourth quarter, but the long-range shooting of Luke Kennard and Marcus Morris Sr. in the period was enough to hold off the Lakers’ big quarter.
The Clippers wound up securing a 119-115 win against the Lakers at STAPLES Center.
“We didn’t allow them to make 15 threes obviously,” Lakers forward Lebron James said. “One thing about them, the Clippers are playing extremely well. We know they’re one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league. With that said I thought a lot of those we were placing really good defense. The Kennard three away from their bench was an open three, they did a great job coming out of time out and split our defense.
“The next Kennard three that he made, we played great defense. AD got a hell of a contest, he made it and the last Marcus Sr. shot we shut out the glass. I thought pretty much we were on time on our target with our defense. The better offense is going to beat the best defense no matter what. We need to do a better job on that next time around.”
It wasn’t that the Lakers did anything wrong. The Clippers was just a nudge better. Well, let’s back up for a moment. The Lakers lost this game because they could not play defense. With their defensive rotations moving at a snail’s pace, the Lakers allowed the Clippers to connect on 16 of 36 shots from three-point range.
Both Kennard and Morris had a ball shooting deep. Morris made 6 of his 9 3-point attempts during the game. Kennard, who scored 11 of his 19 points in the final quarter, made 5 of 8 shots from 3-point range.
“He provided offense for us to close the game out,” Paul George said about his teammate. “Big shots. He stepped up big in the biggest and the brightest lights we’ve seen in our season so far. He was instant offense for us.”
Even with the number of 3-pointers the Clippers attempted and converted, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel thinks his defensive rotations were fine.
“We trust our rotations,” Vogel remarked. “We feel really good about our ability to get the ball out of somebody like Paul [George]’s hands and scramble around the perimeter and get to their shooters. We were just a step late. We had one breakdown where we left Luke [Kennard] open in the corner and a couple others where AD got a great contest on guys. They made tough shots. We trust our rotations in those situations.”
The Lakers are still finding their way. A quarter way into the regular season, the Lakers still trying to find their identity. That’s because James has been out of the lineup for nearly half (11) of the team’s first 24 games.
Injuries have been the main culprit that has sat James down, something the 19-year veteran has not been used to during his storied career. With James taking the floor Friday night with his teammates, the Lakers, riding a two-game winning streak, hoped to make it three in a row against their hallway rivals.
As far as finding their way, the Lakers (12-12) came into the Western Conference Pacific matchup sporting a record that was one game above .500, something straight out in the middle of the road page. The Clippers (12-11) had not been playing too much better, posting an 11-11 record before playing the Lakers.
With that said, when the Lakers and Clippers play each other it’s a clear rival game. So those records don’t mean squat when these two teams square off. The Clippers came into the game having lost their last three games and being victors in only three of their past 10 contests.
With James back in action, his presence on the floor gives the Lakers a foundation to run their offense and defense through. Even with offseason acquisitions Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony being added to the lineup, it is vital that James be on the floor in order for the Lakers to step out of their mediocre funk.
The Clippers don’t care about all of that. They played the Lakers like that. For the first two quarters, the two teams played almost evenly with the Clippers taking a 53-50 lead into halftime. Then the third quarter came and the Clippers decided to put on a shooting display.
Every time the Lakers made a run to try to break through, the Clippers responded. Westbrook hit a three-point shot to tie the game up at 58-58. But then Paul George, Serge Ibaka and Morris went on a three-point binge in the third period to give the Clippers some elbow room.
After going for 30 points in the second quarter, the Clippers kept the heat on the Lakers in the third period with a 34-point outburst. But you knew that James and the Lakers were not going to lay down. The fourth quarter proved that.
Led by James, the Lakers made a serious push to get control of the game. The Clippers would not let them have it. Even with A.D. being A.D. and James doing his thing, Tyronn Lue’s team had an answer for everything the Lakers did.
With Davis taking control of the paint and swingman Malik Monk playing like a well-established veteran, the Lakers had every right to think that they would eventually overtake the Clippers. It didn’t happen. The Lakers got as close as being down by one point 110-109 but just couldn’t quite get over the hump.
“I mean we stayed in it until the fourth quarter,” Davis said. “We had plenty of chances to take the lead and they made some big shots. They come down, I think we were down one, I think. Malik [Monk] just made a three coming down on a fast break left-wing and then missing one that goes over the back and goes out of bounds. Russ with the offensive foul, that was a dunk for me right there. It’s just little things that didn’t go our way.”
Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) goes for the reverse layup in a game played at STAPLES Center against the Los Angeles Clippers. James scored 23 points in the Lakers’ 119-115 defeat to the Clippers. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, racial and social justice, civil rights, and HBCUs. Dennis earned a journalism degree from “The Mecca” aka Howard University. “I write on what I am passionate about.”