For the first time in nine months, the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers competed in the Staples Center. In a battle that consisted of 14 lead changes and seven ties, the reigning champion Lakers secured an 87-81 victory.
Guard Talen Horton-Tucker led the Lakers with 19 points and forward Montrezl Harrell grabbed 12 rebounds. Clippers forward Paul George led with 10 points and center Ivica Zubac made 10 rebounds.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma mentioned how Horton-Tucker has the potential to be “a great player.”
“He’s extremely young, but he has a certain type of poise, maturity to his game,” Kuzma said. “He’s just a sponge, he loves basketball, he’s always in the gym.”
Many players and coaches were not phased by the absence of fans and the crowd noise that was pumped into Staples. All except two players played on the Clippers roster; Lakers forward Anthony Davis, forward LeBron James and center Marc Gasol were some of the seven Lakers who did not compete.
The Clippers had their core start the game while the Lakers starters included guard Dennis Schroder, Kuzma, and Harrell. Despite accumulating turnovers, the Clippers kept the score close with the Lakers.
“Going into it, we wanted to play 12 minutes for [George] and Kawhi (Leonard),” said Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue. “I think [Leonard] and [George] has to set the tone for us defensively along with Patrick Beverley and they did that tonight.”
Clippers center Serge Ibaka and George led the way in scoring for the first quarter. Harrell and Kuzma led the offensive effort. Horton-Tucker committed three steals, helping the Clippers rack up turnovers. Ultimately, the Clippers lost 31 points from 27 turnovers.
Scoring halted for the Lakers for over four minutes during the second phase. After George hit a three-pointer to give the Clippers a four-point advantage, Schröder and Kuzma returned to the court. The Lakers went on a scoring drought for two minutes while the Clippers found a six-point run.
Cook made a fast break layup to wake up the Lakers offense, but the Clippers had a 46-43 lead by halftime. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel noted how the defense improved as the game progressed and noticed how the team veterans helped the new players correct their mistakes.
“I love the fact that we’re hitting people on the glass, I love the fact that we were taking charges,” he said. “There were situations where guys dove on the floor for loose balls … that’s a play-harder-than-our-opponent habit that I wanted to be established.”
The Lakers continued to trail in the early minutes of the third, Harrell picked up his third foul. Although Schröder led the team with 10 points, he was 3-11 from the field at this point. The entire Lakers squad was shooting at 33.3 percent.
Clippers center Daniel Oturu and guard Ky Bowman scored six points each during the fourth quarter. Horton-Tucker and Kuzma rallied for the Lakers, giving them a lead with 6:46 left. This was the Lakers first lead since the second quarter.
After both teams tied at 77 points with 3:58 left in regulation, a turnover by the Clippers led to a three-pointer by guard Quinn Cook. A foul by forward Mfiondu Kabengele, put Horton-Tucker on the free throw line. This put the Lakers five points ahead and they continued the momentum for the rest of the game.
The Lakers will compete against the Clippers again on Sunday December 13 at 5:30pm.