This was a thrilling, playoff-intensity level game from start to finish, with numerous ties and lead changes throughout. Both teams started out hot, with Anthony Davis leading the charge for the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard taking command for the Clips. In essence, each team went to their strengths, with the Lakers maneuvering their size and athleticism near the hoop to dominate the rim on both ends, while the Clippers had their large wings score over smaller or slower Lakers’ defenders. The Clippers’ bench, normally an advantage, did not prove such early: the Lakers shut down the Lou-Trez pick and roll while Kyle Kuzma went wild, scoring 15 points in the period. Fortunately, the rest of the Lakers were quiet, and they held a mere two-point lead heading into the second quarter.
Unfortunately, the Lakers pulled away in that second period. None of the Clippers’ role players could find the range and Paul George was unusually off, missing open jumpers and getting stuffed a couple times around the rim. The Clippers were not necessarily playing bad basketball, but the Lakers just looked a bit better, and consistently created easier shots than the Clippers were able to. The Clippers did stay attached by scoring just enough, but trailed by double-digits entering halftime.
After briefly falling to 15 points behind, the Clippers began the long, laborious process of climbing back into the game. Kawhi Leonard was once more instrumental, able to bully whichever Lakers defender was guarding him and making smart reads when doubled. Pat Beverley turned the energy up on both ends and helped put a lot of pressure on the Lakers defensively. When the bench came in, while Lou remained ineffective, Montrezl Harrell was able to get going a bit, especially through putbacks on the offensive glass. By the end of the quarter, the gap had been closed completely with the score knotted at 86. More importantly, the energy of the game had shifted, and the Clippers had switched into their dogfight, no-holds-barred approach that has proven so successful over the past several years.
The fourth quarter only saw an increase in the already palpable tension. LeBron James, after sitting back and playmaking for much of the game, decided to take a more active role, and drained several jumpers to give the Lakers a small cushion. The Clippers, unrattled, went to their closer, and Kawhi Leonard answered back with his own barrage of difficult shots while making his way to the line several times as well. Paul George continued to misfire, but Pat Beverley made up the difference by snagging several huge offensive rebounds, which also seemed to demoralize the Lakers. While the Lakers started to run “safer” offense, and clammed up, the Clippers moved freely and were able to establish a small lead. Nonetheless, the Lakers had a chance to tie with just seconds left in the game, but Pat Beverley made a ridiculous defensive play on James, blocking the ball off LeBron to switch possession. Paul George made two free throws, and the game was won.
Pat Beverley Does His Thing: Many pundits have said that the Clippers need a true point guard and playmaker, that their lack of such a presence has been the root cause of their issues this season, and could be their bugaboo in the playoffs. Maybe so. However, it’s not that simple. Pat Beverley, while not a traditional point guard, does a lot of things for this team – things which are not so easily replaceable. Most important is the attitude that he brings. It’s an attitude that can get him into trouble with overaggressive defense a high foul rate, but it also inspires teammates and frequently causes momentum shifts in games. Close behind is Pat’s rebounding ability, which he brings to bear on both ends of the court. If there’s an important rebound and it’s loose on the court, it’s likely that Pat will get it. His rebounding would be valuable for any team, but is especially significant for a squad that likes to go small and frequently lacks size and rebounding elsewhere. Finally, despite not being a top-tier playmaker, Beverley is a smart passer who rarely turns the ball over, a boon for a team with several high-turnover presences. Pat has weaknesses as a scorer and shot creator, and is not the defender he was a few years ago. But he’s invaluable to this Clippers team, and tonight showed why.
Kawhi is a Machine: While Beverley had the game-saving defensive play and was a hero on the glass, the Clippers were led all night by Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi scored 35 points (on 19 shots), brought down 12 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists, all while playing exceptional defense on LeBron James. In short, Kawhi was the best player on the court, carrying the Clippers offensively while doing the little things defensively and dominating the glass. There’s just no rattling Kawhi. He’s stronger than almost every player in the NBA, and uses that strength to dislodge defenders and get to his spots. It’s not always pretty, but it sure is effective, and the Lakers could not stop him tonight.
Weird Rotations: This was Doc Rivers’ first game with a full complement of players, and it was easy to tell. He started Patrick Patterson to bring some size on Anthony Davis early, and while the overall choice made sense, it was puzzling to not use JaMychal Green, who’s essentially a souped-up version of Patterson. In fact, Green didn’t play at all in the 1st half, something which Doc admitted was a grievous oversight after the game. There’s no excuse for him to get seven minutes barring injury or foul trouble, and neither was a factor tonight. Rodney McGruder didn’t play either, and while adding more size against a bigger Lakers team was certainly a factor, McGruder’s defense could have been useful tonight. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell again probably played a bit too much considering their defensive weaknesses, but that’s a more understandable mistake. Doc will need to learn how to manage a full roster, and growing pains can certainly be expected.
Well, the Clippers are now 2-0 against the Lakers this season. They were, however, the worse team for much of tonight, and there’s still much to be worked on, especially regarding turnovers and defensive rotations on three-point shooters. There’s no doubt this was a big win though, and the Clippers should now be fully ready to take on a lighter schedule over the next few weeks and really get going in the standings.