The much-anticipated Lakers versus Clippers Christmas Day game was an old-fashioned showdown between two teams that share the same home court in STAPLES Center. It came down to the wire in front of a star-studded crowd that included comedian Kevin Hart and actor Anthony Anderson, but ultimately a few costly turnovers and questionable fouls erased the Lakers 15-point lead to give the Clippers the edge, 111-106.
“We beat ourselves, plain and simple,” said Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma led the team with a season-high 25 points off the bench after struggling to get into an offensive rhythm this season.
Kuzma came out the gate and scored 15 of the Lakers’ 33 first-quarter points. As the Lakers closed out the first quarter, they maintained a two-point lead over the Clippers, 33-31.
Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opened up the second quarter with a finger roll to the basket to keep the Lakers going on the offensive end of the court. With 9:11 left in the first half, Caldwell-Pope had a massive chase down block then fell directly to the ground. He got up and walked straight to the locker room, but would return to the game after having his left ankle re-taped.
By halftime, Kawhi Leonard had scored 18 first-half points as the Clippers trailed 63-51. Leonard was tasked with guarding LeBron James, who had just eight points at the half.
“It wasn’t my first time,” Leonard said of the matchup. “I guarded him the first game…I’ll always love the contest. He’s a great player and playing on Christmas, it was fun.”
The Lakers led by as much as 15 points in the third quarter, the largest margin of the game, as Anthony Davis scored a layup with 9:26 left in the quarter. Clippers’ Landry Shamet tied the game at 86 all with a 3-pointer to close the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Lakers took their foot off the gas on offense. Though the team would lead by as much as seven points in the fourth quarter, within the final four minutes and 58 seconds of the game, the Lakers only scored three points.
Both Danny Green and Anthony Davis had costly fouls in the final quarter that led to the Clippers to get to the free-throw line five times. The Clippers were a perfect 10-for-10 from the line.
“We had a lot of mistakes down the end of the game…mental mistakes on both ends of the floor,” Davis commented. “We fouled a lot in the fourth quarter and put them on the line. We gave that one away.”
Patrick Beverley sealed the game after he knocked the ball out of James’ hands on a play that could have tied the game and potentially sent it to overtime. The combination of the Clippers’ defensive intensity from players like Beverley and their ability to score late in the game ended in a win.
Leonard would finish with a game-high 35 points to go with 12 rebounds and five assists. He set a new Clippers franchise-high for the most points on Christmas, a record previously held by Marques Johnson in 1985 who scored 31.
“He was terrific,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers stated. “He made big shots, he made big passes too.”
Rewind to when these two teams faced each other on opening day, the Clippers bested the Lakers despite both teams being shorthanded due to injuries. The Clippers were without Paul George was still recovering from his offseason shoulder surgery while the Lakers did not have Kuzma who was sidelined by a foot injury he sustained during Team USA.
This time around, on Christmas Day, both teams cleared their full roster to play. James entered the matchup dealing with a thoracic muscle sprain and Davis was reportedly still being affected by his shoulder and a sprained ankle.
James revealed after the game that he re-aggravated his groin after Beverley kneed him early on in the game.
With this loss, the Lakers fall to 0-2 against the Clippers this season and have lost four in a row.
“We just got to get better,” remarked James, who scored 23 points with 10 assists and nine rebounds on the night.
“I said that even during the win streaks, the road streaks. 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,” he added.
The Lakers will have another opportunity when the team travels to Portland to face the Trail Blazers on Saturday before closing out the final home game of the year at STAPLES Center against the Mavericks on Sunday.
The Lakers-Clippers game was the second-most-watched Christmas primetime game in NBA history with 8.8 million viewers on ESPN.