LeBron James returned to the lineup for the Lakers Christmas Day showdown but the Clippers still squeezed out a 111-106 victory on the Lakers home court. The loss on Christmas is the Lakers fourth consecutive loss.
“They got stops, made shots.” James said after the loss.
James finished one rebound short of a triple-double after sitting out the Lakers loss to Denver Sunday. He scored 23 points and registered 10 assists in 39 minutes versus the Clippers.
“You get an opportunity to play the game you love, on Christmas and in front of the world,” James said about his return. “… You just try to live in the moment. “
James said he felt healthy entering the game but he got kneed in the groin on defense early in the game as he took a charge.
Nonetheless, Anthony Davis did his part with 24 points, 6 rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes.
“We made a lot of mistakes down at the end of the game, mental mistakes on both ends of the floor.” Davis said after the loss where his team led by as much as 15 in third quarter. “We gave that one away,”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma gave the Lakers much needed shooting off the bench. K.C.P finished with 13 points in 27 minutes and echoed the team’s collapse in the second half.
“They picked up the aggressiveness on defense end,” Caldwell-Pope said. “…The second half kind of turned around in their favor.
Kuzma added 25 points in 27 minutes his second game back since missing more than a month with an ankle injury.
“This is what I look like when I’m healthy and confident in my body,” Kuzma said after stringing together another effective performance off the bench.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel also said Kuzma played well and he will be a big part of the team’s efforts the rest of the season.
“This is the Kuz we envisioned, all summer, since I got here.” Vogel said after the game. “Somebody who can fill it up.
Otherwise, Vogel cited the Lakers lack of execution down the stretch combined with their struggles hitting threes as reasons why they lost. The Lakers shot 27 percent from three-point range and the Clippers won the rebounding battle by eight too.
Vogel also mentioned the Clippers advantage at the free throw line as a reason for the loss. The Lakers shot 21 free throws compared to the Clippers 32.
Clippers star forward Kawhi Leonard eventually sealed it up with free throws. Leonard led the show early and often. Leonard finished with 35 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists in 38 minutes.
“We played one possession at a time and was able to get a win.” The Clippers 2019 offseason acquisition said after his team’s big win.
Leonard shot 11-of-19 from the field including 5-for-7 from deep. The Clippers star forward said he was just getting to his spots and finding his guys.
Kawhi downplayed the importance of beating the cross-town rival Lakers and he said it was just another game too.
“I’m just happy we got a road win,” Leonard told the media. “…Christmas has nothing to do with it.”
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said the Lakers were better prepared and locked in for their second matchup of the regular season. Rivers added that their small-ball lineup with Kawhi at the four made the difference in the second half.
“I thought they played harder than us in the first half, executed better” Rivers said after his team took a 2-0 regular season series lead over their Staples Center roommates. “I thought we did that in the second.”
Paul George also played his first game versus the Lakers. George was still rehabbing from shoulder injuries when the Clippers beat the Lakers on opening night.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” The former Thunder and Pacers forward said about his debut in the Clippers-Lakers rivalry.
George scored 17 points along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists versus the team that was once rumored to acquire him.
Former Lakers center Ivica Zubac, who was traded to the Clippers at the deadline last year, chipped in 11 points and 8 rebounds in only 17 minutes.
“You could feel it in the city,” Zubac said about the Lakers-Clippers rivalry growing thanks to both team’s success this year.
Montrezl Harrell was a presence in the paint too as he added 18 points and 6 rebounds in 31 minutes.
Game Notes from Lakers versus Clippers on Christmas Day
The NBA Christmas day between the Lakers and Clippers began with a ton of energy from both teams as they traded baskets through most of the first and second quarter.
However, the Lakers 17-2 run to close out the second quarter helped the home team secure a 63-51 advantage headed into halftime. James was 0-of-6 from three in the first half but did have 8 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists at the midpoint.
The Lake Show’s biggest advantage in the first came from the bench as they outscored the Clippers 35-12 in bench points during the first half.
Kyle Kuzma also came up big in the first half. He had 16 points in the first two quarters including the second period’s final basket which was a three with second left on the clock before halftime. Kuzma also had a stretch where he hit back-to-back shots in the fourth.
In the third quarter, the Clippers went on their run bringing the game as close as 69-71 about halfway through the third quarter.
Paul George on the other had started slower. His shot got sent by Anthony Davis a few times throughout.
Montrezl Harrell hit a couple of free throws with 37.8 left in the third which brought the Clippers defect to one point. Kyle Kuzma would score on the Lakers next possession. However, Landry Shamet hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 86 all.
The fourth quarter was more back and forth. The Lakers finally found some breathing room thanks to James nailing some 3-pointers in the fourth. He hit back-to-back shots with just under 7 minutes left in the game. That 5-0 James run gave the Lakers a 101-94 lead over the Clippers. He hit a three earlier in the fourth which was his first of the night.
Kawhi Leonard hit a contested three at the 6:14 mark that tied the game at 101 all.
James found Davis for a two handed slam and Harrell converted an offensive rebound to tie it again. The next possession, the Lakers couldn’t convert open threes and the Clippers turned the ball over. Lou Williams stole the ball and got fouled on his layup attempt. The free throws gave the Clippers a 105-103 advantage.
Kawhi would score the next four Clippers points at the free throw line thanks to two Danny Green fouls which made the game 109-105 with two minutes left. The Clippers held that until James one-of-two free throws to bring the Lakers within three with 41.9 remaining. That’s as close as the Lakers would get.
Also worth noting, Rajon Rondo added 7 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. Dwight Howard added 9 rebounds and 2 points in 12 minutes.
What’s Next for the Clippers and Lakers?
The Clippers sat tied for the third spot in the West at 22-10 while the Lakers were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference at 24-6. Both teams entered the game having lost three of the last five. Moreover, L.A.’s basketball teams both had their full rosters back.
Both Western Conference contenders will look to build on their health. The Lakers will travel to play the Portland Trailblazers on Dec. 28 while the Clippers will face the Jazz at home on the same day.
These two teams face off again on the Lakers home court Jan. 28.
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