Patrick Beverley sized up LeBron James with the Clippers up 3, needing one last stop to secure a come-from-behind victory. Beverley knocked the ball away as James went up for the tying jumper, giving the Clippers the ball, and the win.
The Clippers defeated the Lakers 111-106 for the second time this season, earning at least a split of the season series should that come into play for postseason seeding tiebreakers.
Kawhi Leonard led the way once again for the Clippers, scoring 35 points on 11-of-19 shooting and adding 12 rebounds and five assists. He was briefly thrown off by being defended by Anthony Davis to start the game, but mostly had no trouble getting to his spots against whoever else the Lakers threw at him, and draining his jumper with ease.
Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac said that at halftime, the coaches asked each individual player what he was seeing during the first half with the team trailing by 12. The last player to speak said the Lakers were playing harder, and that was the answer Doc Rivers and his staff wanted to hear.
The Clippers put the clamps on defensively in the second half, holding the Lakers to 43 points after they had cruised to 63 in the first half. They upped their physicality, won the rebounding the battle (25-19), and lived at the free-throw line (23-8 free-throw edge) to change the tenor of the game.
Moe Harkless pointed out two keys that the Clippers excelled at during the opening night matchup: transition and the offensive glass. The Clippers outscored the Lakers 19-11 in second-chance and fastbreak points in the second half, providing the margin of victory.
The Lakers had success in the first half using their size to overwhelm the Clippers. The Clippers had difficulty getting traction on the Lou Williams/Harrell pick-and-roll, as Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope cut off Williams' space and Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis expertly handled the Harrell roll. As a result, the bench units that usually extend the lead for the Clippers couldn't score.
The Lakers swarmed Lou Williams often. The blitzes knocked Williams out of his rhythm and he wasn't able find the open passing angles. Howard neutralized Harrell on the glass, preventing Harrell from getting his usual hustle points to start the game.
The Clippers stuck with their small lineup, even down 15, and simply used more energy to force the Lakers to size down and match them. Beverley cleaned up the glass while the bigs fought for position. He had nine rebounds, as many as the leading Lakers (Howard and James) on the night.
By goading the Lakers into playing small, the Clippers took away their size advantage and had better perimeter players to execute down the stretch.
The Clippers had the depth advantage despite shortening their rotation. Rodney McGruder didn't play, and JaMychal Green only saw action in the second half. However, Green was a spark when he got minutes, and Rivers acknowledged that it was a terrible decision to keep Green on the bench early. Green provided 3 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in 7 minutes, helping to settle the team in the crucial third-quarter stretch.
The Clippers wholeheartedly downplayed the significance of this win in the big picture, but it's another quality win against a Western Conference opponent. They've also convincingly established themselves as superior to the Lakers, at least at this point in the season. A Merry Christmas indeed for the Clippers.