Entering the night, the LA Clippers had gone 6-4 in their previous 10 games. With a 36-29 record and seated at 7th place in the Western Conference standings, after radically re-tooling their roster at the trade deadline, tonight’s matchup marked their 6th game in a span of just 9 days. They’ve been overachieving and surpassing expectations all season long, but haven’t taken their foot off the gas. Including tonight’s bout, the Clippers had just 13 remaining games in the month of March, with only 5 against Western Conference teams and only 4 taking place on the road. They knew the importance every game would have in bolstering their postseason push, with perhaps none more important than tonight’s matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers, who entered tonight’s game with a 30-33 record and 10th place in the West, have been confounding expectations for different reasons than their cross-hall rivals. After acquiring LeBron James during the offseason and assembling a group of scrappy veterans to mesh with their young developing core, they were favored by many to challenge the Golden State Warriors in the West. But their season hadn’t gone as planned. Injuries have plagued them all season long, trade deadline drama had ensued, and the team chemistry that many expected would flourish has seemingly floundered progressively by the day. Tonight’s game was a microcosm of their entire season thus far.
The Lakers discovered not long before tip-off that Brandon Ingram would be sidelined with a shoulder injury, as they await the returns of Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson, and Tyson Chandler (they would also eventually lose Kyle Kuzma during the 4th quarter due to what appeared to be an ankle sprain). They would have to make due with the group they had, but let’s not forget that they still have arguably the greatest player in the entire NBA and a capable group of rotation players.
In a game that would end up with 9 ties and 12 lead changes, it was all Lakers to start the night. Led by Rajon Rondo’s stellar play at both ends of the floor, the Lakers out-dueled the Clippers 34-26 in the opening quarter. By the end of the 1st quarter, the Lakers had out-scored, out-rebounded, and out-assisted the Clippers, forcing 5 turnovers in the process. But once the 2nd quarter began, the Clippers stepped-up their level of activity and remained engaged, leading in scoring in each of the subsequent quarters.
On the stat sheet, Danilo Gallinari (23 points, 6 rebounds), Lou Williams (21 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds), and Montrezl Harrell (14 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) led the way for the Clippers. But it was Patrick Beverley - the heart and soul of this team, the tough-minded 6’1” guard who demanded to guard LeBron every chance he got - who led his team to victory. Beverley would finish with 13 points, 9 rebounds, 5 steals, and 4 assists, putting pressure on every player and passing lane in his vicinity all night long while boxing-out 7-footers in the process. And all of this has become the norm for the Clippers, who sensed the opportunity presented to them tonight in working towards securing a postseason spot.
This was yet another tough loss for the Lakers, who are now 4 games below .500 and show no discernible signs of turning things around with only 18 games remaining in the regular season. LeBron would finish the night with 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in over 42 minutes of action, and Rondo finished with an efficient triple-double (24 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds), but it simply wasn’t enough to handle a deep Clippers team that out-rebounded them, tallied 7 steals, and shot better from everywhere on the floor.
The Clippers have a relatively friendly schedule ahead of them, and tonight was a major boost for a team looking to propel themselves into both the postseason and the 2019 free agency extravaganza. The opponent and the timing of tonight’s matchup were especially fitting, and don’t expect the Clippers to let up any time soon. They’ve been doubted all season long, and they’re continuing to demonstrate why basketball fans in Los Angeles need to take notice.
Be sure to check out the Lakers perspective over at Silver Screen & Roll.