The Los Angeles Lakers’ Saturday matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers was a bit different then accustomed to. Not only did they have a 12:30 afternoon game on the road at Staples Center, but it was the first of two back-to-back afternoon contests.
The 21-54 Lakers were using the final stretch of games to experiment with their roster, while the 46-31 Clippers were fighting for playoff position in the tough Western conference. They entered the game at a bit of a disadvantage, after finding out that center Ivica Zubac will be out for the remainder of the season with a high ankle sprain.
The Clippers always seem to play with an extra gear when facing off against their Staples Center counterparts, looking to turn the game into a blowout in the first quarter. The Lakers couldn’t get any offense going early on, as the Clippers tried to capitalize in transition.
Doc Rivers’ team was out and running early on, starting the game up 11-0. The home game for the Clippers seemed to be some sort of statement, especially with the season series on the line.
Thomas Robinson was able to scratch for the Lakers, but when a player off the bench is the first to score you know you are in trouble. Clarkson also hit a mid-range jump shot to cut the game to 17-4, after the Clippers started the contest with 17 straight points.
The Lakers, who seemed to be intimidated at first, bounced back rather nicely into this game. The team ran through a great offensive execution, rotating the ball all over the court before Larry Nance Jr. knocked down a mid-range jump shot.
Luke Walton and the bench cheered on their teammates, especially with Walton anticipating a more aggressive role for Nance Jr. The Lakers then capitalized off of two missed DeAndre Jordan free throws, as Brandon Ingram took the ball coast-to-coast for the three-point play.
The 12-2 run for the Lakers brought them back into the contest, as Rivers angrily called a timeout with the lead at 19-12. After starting the game sprinting everywhere, the Clippers seemed gas halfway into the quarter.
Ingram smelled blood with Luc Mbah A Moute guarding him, as he capitalized on another strong drive to the rim with his second three-point play of the game. Ingram, who had sat out the last two games for the Lakers, seemed extremely fresh on the court on Saturday. Walton’s offense ran through Ingram, as the rookie was hungry on the court.
Ingram would go on to miss the free throw, but Robinson’s constant hustle resulted in an offensive rebound and bucket at the paint. Robinson, who saw early minutes due to Zubac’s injury, had eight points and seven rebounds with four minutes still left in the first quarter.
The final minute of the first quarter turned into a defensive battle, as both teams fought hard for a stop. Walton and his team had a clear game plan when Jordan and Griffin were in the paint, electing to foul them and have them earn it at the free throw line.
At the end of the first quarter, the Clippers held onto a 28-22 lead. Robinson led the way with eight points and eight rebounds, while Clarkson tacked on seven points.
The Lakers were able to win the turnover battle in the first quarter by a score of 7-4, while also coming away with five steals. The defensive intensity for the bench unit has been a plus for Walton during the final stretch of the season and it wouldn’t change Saturday.
David Nwaba was able to strip Jamal Crawford a fast break dunk, while Tarik Black’s block on Raymond Felton led to a Julius Randle dunk. The Lakers managed to tie the game 28-28, after Corey Brewer took it coast-to-coast and converted two free throws.
The Clippers fans in attendance seemed to get rather quiet in the second quarter, as they witnessed their 17-0 start turn into a tie game in less than a quarter. While many would expect the sluggish start against the veteran team, Walton’s Lakers showed poise by getting their way back into the game.
With the game at 31-30, Brewer took a strong drive to the rim, lost the ball, but recovered and hit a fading shot to give them their first lead of the game. The Clippers would then reinsert their starters, with Griffin hitting a three-pointer and long-range jump shot his first two possessions back in.
A Crawford mid-range shot gave the Clippers a 37-32 lead, but Ingram answered back with a pull-up over Crawford to cut the lead back to three points. Nwaba then hit a floater down the lane after another stop, forcing Rivers to call another timeout with a 37-36 lead.
The Lakers were doing a magnificent job of crashing the boards and boxing out the bigs of the Clipper early on, as they earned a 21-18 rebound advantage over their Staples Center counterparts. While the Lakers were trying not to allow easy buckets at the rim, their constant fouls had the Clippers in the bonus halfway through the second quarter.
A pair of Griffin free throws and lay up extended their lead to 42-36, with the last stretch of the first half proving to be crucial. Both teams would get into a bit of friendly trash, with Paul chirping to Nance Jr. while at the free throw line.
The Lakers attempted to capitalize against the small guards of the Clippers via the post, forcing the Clippers to double team. While Clarkson was backing down Reddick, he found a cutting Randle for a vicious two-handed slam at the rim, cutting the lead down to 48-42.
Both teams exchanged buckets over the final few minutes of the first half, with Nance Jr. hitting a hook shot on the final play of the half. Heading into halftime, the Clippers held on for a 55-50 lead.
The Lakers outscored the Clippers 26-8 in the paint in the first half, a strong sign for Walton in terms of their game plan. However, his team shot 2-for-11 from the three-point line and only made 10 of 15 free throws.
The second half got underway with a bunch of hoisted shots, as both teams were collapsing the paint in anticipation of protecting the rim. However, Nance Jr. and Griffin would be beneficiaries of this, knocking down their own three-pointers.
The Clippers opened up a 65-57 lead, as both teams continued the trash talking. The Lakers bench actually got active in the discussions, especially with Jordan at the free throw line. Perhaps the most surprising point of the game happened to the production of D’Angelo Russell.
Russell was 0-for-6 from the field and 0-for-5 from three-point range, with zero points, five assists and two steals. He had plenty of open looks, but just didn’t have his shot dialed in per usual. The missed opportunities certainly hurt the Lakers comeback attempt, as the Clippers opened up a 71-59 lead.
Offensively, the Lakers hit a tough patch, missing shots that were falling in the first half. The Clippers used this cold stretch to increase their lead to 20 points, coming out to the second half with a renewed sense of focus.
The bench unit would close out the third quarter for the Lakers, with Robinson providing another spark. Upon his insertion, he scored a floater down the lane and converted a three-point play on a nice move over Jordan.
Black would also knock down his own series of jump shots, extending his range with a rather confident stroke. The Lakers would then steal the inbounds pass at the end of the quarter, which resulted in a Tyler Ennis three-pointer. The Clippers outscored the Lakers 38-22 in the third quarter, taking a 93-72 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Lakers opened the fourth with two quick buckets, thanks to hustle plays by Nwaba. He out jumped his defender for an offensive rebound and put back, while also using another offensive rebound to drive by Marreese Speights for the lay up. That bucket would give Nwaba a career high 14 points on the night, to go along with three rebounds and a steal.
Ingram then had his hand in the passing lane, which resulted in a clear path foul. After Ingram hit the free throw, Rivers elected to put Griffin and Reddick back into the game, with a 15-point lead.
After the disastrous third quarter, the Lakers opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run, which brought them back within striking distance. While the Lakers were down, it is important to note how the second unit continued fighting.
Rivers, who saw his team blow an 18-point lead with five minutes remaining, placed Paul and Jordan back into the game as well, to face off against Ingram and the bench. After that substitution, Ennis knocked down a three-pointer, followed by a Robinson floater to cut the lead to 98-86.
The following possession, Griffin was left wide open on the wing and knocked down a career high fourth three-pointer. Griffin had his fingerprints all over this game, with 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Through all the parts in the contest, the Lakers continued to show resiliency, especially from Ingram. The rookie seemed very confident on offense, with the ball continually in his hands during the quarter. With the team down double digits, Ingram knocked down a long two-pointer and three right over Paul, exuding a certain dominance on the court.
Robinson then made a spectacular reverse lay up by Griffin and Jordan, which cut the lead to single digits. Black was then a recipient of a beautiful pick-and-roll between he and Robinson, which resulted in a Black dunk.
However, it seemed as though the final dagger would come via Griffin, as he drove hard and converted a three-point play to give the Clippers a 111-100 lead with less than three minutes remaining. The Clippers ran the clock over the duration of the final two minutes, escaping with a 115-104 over the Lakers.
Nwaba finished with a career high 19 points, along with six rebounds and two steals. Ingram also shined in his return to the team, totaling 18 points, five rebounds and three assists.