The controversial 2003-04 season was filled with many highs and many lows for the Los Angeles Lakers in what eventually ended in a disappointing loss in the NBA Finals. The ‘championship or bust’ mentality, with four future Hall-of-Famers, was criticized as the team suffered a series of losses in the month December, along with injuries to the most of their stars.
On Jan. 17, 2004, the 24-12 Lakers hosted the 16-20 L.A. Clippers in a showdown at Staples Center. In the middle stretch of January, head coach Phil Jackson found himself without Kobe Bryant (shoulder), Shaquille O’Neal (calf) and Karl Malone (knee). It marked the first time Malone had appeared on the injury list in his career.
Without three of their stars, the Lakers began the game with a lineup consisting of Gary Payton, Kareem Rush, Devean George, Slava Medvedenko and Jamal Sampson. Jackson had to rely on the remaining of his four stars, as Payton opposed Marko Jaric of the Clippers.
The Lakers offense got off to a slow start, being outscored by Mike Dunleavy’s squad 30-17 in the first quarter. During the 2000s, the Lakers rarely suffered losses to the Clippers, demonstrating the disparity between the two franchises.
Orchestrating the offense, Payton got the Lakers back on track with a 26-14 second quarter, and they trailed by just one point going into halftime. The second quarter proved to be a real shift in momentum in favor of the Lakers, with the third proving to be the point.
Elton Brand and the Clippers shot a horrendous 7-for-29 from the field in the third, allowing Medvedenko and the Lakers to excel. The two teams went back and forth for much of the fourth quarter, with the Clippers mounting a late rally in the final minutes of the game.
Dunleavy’s team narrowed the seven-point deficit to just two points with a minute remaining. Trailing by two points, Keyon Dooling missed a 3-point lead for the win, solidifying the victory for the Lakers.
Payton, who shot just 7-for-19 from the field, tallied 15 points, 15 assists, six rebounds and two blocks. Medvedenko contributed with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes. That turned out to be Medvedenko’s fourth-highest scoring total of the season.
Fisher and George had 11 points apiece for the contest, contributing in a complete team effort for the Lakers to earn their 25th win of the season. Brand did put together a monster performance for the Clippers, scoring 35 points to go along with 20 rebounds.
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