The Clippers lost to the Lakers for the first time since 2020 in a 130-125 overtime thriller.
The Clippers were active on defense early, flying around and forcing the Lakers to take bad shots. The offense took a couple minutes to rev up, but when it did, boy did it go. The charge was led by Kawhi Leonard, who made his first 5 shots, including three triples. The rest of the Clippers mostly just gave him the ball and played defense, with each other starter contributing two buckets apiece. Kawhi ended with 18 points, and the Clippers led by as many as 19 before two Lakers’ threes late cut it to 13. Overall, an excellent first quarter on both ends.
The Clippers opened the second quarter with a unit of Russ, Norm Powell, Kobe Brown, PJ Tucker, and Mason Plumlee, a unit somehow light on both shooting and defense. Yet, somehow, a Lakers lineup that had one or both of their stars in it failed to take advantage in a hideous first few minutes. After five minutes, the Lakers had outscored the Clippers just 8-7, and at that point Kawhi and PG came back in, with Bones and Zu checking back a couple minutes later (Russ played the whole quarter). The Clippers defense was fairly sharp and the Lakers offense absurdly turnover prone, but the Clippers offense could not kick into gear enough to put the game out of reach. Thus, the game went into halftime much the same it did after one, with the Clippers leading by 13, 61-48.
The start of the 3rd was a back and forth affair, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George doing most of the damage for the Clippers and Anthony Davis and D’Lo responding for the Lakers. Zu picked up his 4th foul early and sat at the 9 minute mark – and the Clippers defense slowly faded. The Lakers continued to chip away, with Kawhi’s shots starting to go short due to fatigue and nobody else answering the call. A burst by Austin Reaves put the Lakers up for the first time since the very early first quarter, and the Lakers led 87-85 going into the final frame.
Ty continued with his shortened rotation, going with Russ, Norm, PG, Tucker, and Zu to start. George hit back to back threes, but he and Zu picked up their fifth fouls at around the 8:20 mark. The Clippers’ offense just could not get going, as Ty Lue shuffled a variety of players in and out of the lineup to get some juice. Ultimately, down 8 with a few minutes left, Ty pulled Zu to go ultra small with Russ, Bones, Norm, PG, and Kawhi. This unit finally began to score, with PG getting to the rim multiple times, but could not get stops. Still down eight with 90 seconds left, PJ Tucker came in for Bones. George then went on an improbable run, hitting multiple threes and draining a series of free throws (though he did miss one), culminating in three straight free throws to tie the game at 117 and send the contest to overtime.
Unfortunately, Paul George fouled out just 30 seconds into overtime. Ty Lue, interestingly, went back to Zubac, leaving Bones on the bench and keeping Tucker in. This unit, unsurprisingly, struggled to score, with Kawhi Leonard being their lone source of offense. Norm fouled out late, bringing Bones back in, but a couple missed threes by Bones and Russ sealed the game, giving the Lakers the win.
Playoff Atmosphere: This was a really intense game, with both coaches and all players involved going all out to win. Anthony Davis played 47 minutes, LeBron 42, Russ 44, Kawhi 41, and George 37, with the rotations shrinking drastically in the second half. It was a nailbiter and very exciting to watch – by far the most entertaining game the Clippers have played this year even with the loss.
Kawhi and PG Cook: By far the most encouraging element of the season so far for the Clippers is the play of Kawhi and Paul George. Kawhi had his 18 point first quarter to give the Clippers a nice lead, and George had a massive 20 point 4th quarter to get the game to overtime. Leonard looked short on some shots late, but still found the energy to score several times in the extra period. I have worries about their ability to stay healthy, and on the surrounding cast – but Kawhi Leonard and Paul George remain championship caliber players, and that’s the most important thing. Both guys were absolutely awesome in this one on both ends, and deserve the long break until Monday.
Kobe Over Amir: Interestingly, Kobe Brown got minutes over Amir Coffey on the second unit in the first half. Amir is a veteran, Kobe is a rookie, and Amir also made more sense positionally in the unit, as Kobe was playing the 3 alongside PJ Tucker and Mason Plumlee. Kobe must have earned the coaching staff’s trust quickly – and Amir seems to have lost it nearly completely. Kobe will probably not play much when Harden and Mann are back, but his minutes are something to keep an eye on. As for Amir, while he’s useful depth the Clippers should not just give away, I’d love to see him go somewhere where he’d actually play. Neither guy played at all in the second half as Ty Lue went to an 8-man rotation.
PJ Debut: James Harden did not play, and Filip Petrusev is already gone, but PJ Tucker did make his Clippers’ debut in this one, playing at the 4 off the bench. In six first half minutes, he recorded no stats outside of two fouls and was a -7, with an awful clear path foul against LeBron being the only play of note. Tucker was slightly better in his first eight minute stint in the second half, as he at least got two offensive rebounds, but he really only looked playable in the short stretch when he was the Clippers’ lone big man. PJ finished with a team worst -15 in 21 minutes and did not score, though he did have five offensive rebounds. The offense was also noticeably cramped with him and a center out there. It’s just one game, but it falls in line with everything Sixers’ people said – he’s really just a center at this stage.