The Lakers started their seven game road trip tonight, at home. Sort of. The Lakers took on the Clippers for the first time this season with the Clippers claiming home court. For the Lakers, starting an extended road trip on a losing note was not something they wanted to do, especially against the lowly Clippers in the same building that houses the Lakers championship banners. However, the Clippers weren’t about to let the Lakers leave town with an easy win, despite what Kobe & Co. appeared to be thinking.
The Lakers started the game looking very similar to the way they have looked lately. While they had a 10-2 lead to start the game, it slowly diminished and they found themselves in the middle of another tough match-up. The Clippers were giving the Lakers a steady dose of speed, and that proved troublesome for the defending champions. Despite Blake Griffin’s two early fouls the Clippers still were able to hang in the game.
For Los Angeles (the Lakers, I guess it’s important to specify) they saw some early productivity out of Kobe Bryant. He looked efficient and was able to keep the Lakers in front, albeit barely. The Clippers finished the first quarter on a 6-0 run and finished the quarter down only two, 20-18.
The second quarter was very similar to much of the first. Sloppy play on both ends of the floor contributed to fairly steady dose of back and forth. Turnovers became a problem for the Lakers as well, and they had nine by the time the half was over. The most debilitating thing for the Lakers continues to be their defense. Easy lay-ups and uncontested three-point shots not only kept the Clippers in the game, but ultimately gave them the lead.
Right before the second quarter came to an end the Clippers were able to tie the game. Following a horrendous looking shot from Ron Artest they were able to take their first lead of the night at the free throw line. Heading into the locker room at the break the Lakers found themselves down to the Clippers, who were led by Rasual Butler’s 8 points and Craig Smith’s 7 points. If the Lakers wanted to start the winning streak on a positive note they would have to dial up the intensity in the second half.
The complacency and poor play continued for the Lakers in the third. The Clippers were getting easy looks and open lay-ups, which was a result of poor Lakers defense. The defense has been the achilles heel for the Lakers thus far this season, and that showed here tonight. While this was the second of a back to back for the Lakers, it was still a matter of effort that just wasn’t there. The Clippers looked more energized and more excited while the Lakers were going through the motions.
The Lakers fell down by 12 in the quarter, but Shannon Brown was able to keep the Lakers in the game with his outside shooting. A Brown three cut the lead down to six before Baron Davis hit another three to push it back to nine. Brown wasn’t done, however, as he heaved a fifty foot shot at the buzzer that went in to give the Lakers some momentum heading into the fourth.
The momentum from the Shannon Brown heave at the end of the third carried into the fourth for the Lakers. A Matt Barnes lay-up and a Steve Blake three pointer cut the Clippers lead down to a single point. After several other possessions the Lakers bench was finally able to grab the lead, 74-73, after a Steve Blake jump shot. In the fourth the Lakers defense was finally playing inspired basketball, and looked much more energetic than they had the first three quarters of play.
While the bench was able to get the Lakers back into the game, it would be up to the starters to close it out. Considering how little success the starters had had throughout the game that seemed like a troublesome prospect for the Lakers. When the Lakers finally took the lead many thought the Clippers would fold, but that wasn’t the case. These aren’t the Clippers of Christmas Past, as they put forth a strong run to re-claim the lead.
One encouraging sign for the Lakers was their increased defensive intensity, particularly from Matt Barnes. However, hot shooting from Eric Gordon helped the Clippers take the lead again in the fourth. The struggles of Pau Gasol continued in the fourth, as his apathetic play really hurt the Lakers down the stretch. However, a late jump shot from Gasol and a turnover from the Clippers resulted in a Kobe Bryant floater that cut the deficit to one with forty seconds to go.
After two key Ron Artest steals Bryant gave the Lakers the lead with just seconds remaining. However, the Clippers were able to get an open dunk to grab the lead once more. That meant the Lakers had one last shot to escape with a win, and many were expecting Bryant to attempt the game winner. It wasn’t to be for Kobe, however, as Derek Fisher took the ball and drove the lane. The ball left his hand with 0.1 seconds remaining in the game and went through the hoop for a Lakers win. Fisher has done it time and time again for the Lakers, and this was certainly one of the more memorable.
In the end the Lakers escaped with a victory, defeating their Staples Center rivals 87-86.