There were big shots, big stops and the biggest stars the NBA has to offer. Yep, the battle for Los Angeles lived up to the hype.
The Clippers captured a thrilling 111-106 victory over the Lakers on Wednesday, moving to 2-0 against their Pacific Division rivals this season. Kawhi Leonard led the way for the Clippers with 35 points, 12 rebounds and five assists; Lakers forwards LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 47 points but shot just 17-of-41 from the field (3-of-18 on 3-pointers).
But it was pesky Clippers guard Patrick Beverley who came up with the biggest play of the night — a swat of James in the final seconds that sealed a comeback victory.
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Here are three takeaways from an exciting Christmas Day contest at the Staples Center.
Kawhi Leonard a step above the other stars
LeBron, AD, Paul George — forget about them. No one shined as bright as Leonard, especially in the fourth quarter. He scored 11 of the Clippers’ last 21 points, helping his team shut the door on the Lakers with a 17-5 run.
Leonard also accepted the challenge of defending James one-on-one, harassing the four-time MVP and doing his best to prevent James from receiving the ball. James contributed a near triple-double (23 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds), but he did not score with his usual efficiency (9-of-24 shooting, 2-of-12 from beyond the arc).
Davis had similar shooting struggles and totaled only four points in the final frame. George never found a groove, finishing with 17 points on 18 shots.
Leonard was simply on a different level Wednesday night, and there was no room for debate. Oh, and by the way, he’s now 15-8 in his career against LeBron.
Patrick Beverley with a very Patrick Beverley game
How else to put it? Classic Pat Bev.
The 31-year-old guard didn’t post the craziest stat line, but he came up huge when it mattered most. Beverley attacked the boards with his usual ferocity, snagging nine rebounds, including five in the fourth quarter alone.
Most importantly, Beverley made what turned out to be the game-deciding stop on James. With the Lakers trailing by three points and less than 10 seconds on the clock, James attempted a pull-up 3-pointer but was stripped by Beverley. Slow-motion replays showed the ball grazed LeBron’s fingers before falling out of bounds, resulting in a turnover and sealing the victory.
Here’s the number that really tells the story: Beverley was plus-26 in 32 minutes. No one else was better than plus-13.
The guy makes things happen.
A building block for Kyle Kuzma
James and the Lakers aren’t searching for silver linings, but hey, Kuzma looked good!
He brought some energy off the bench with 15 points in the first quarter. He displayed great confidence and didn’t hesitate with the ball in his hands.
Kuzma finished with a team-high 25 points and actually outscored Sixth Man of the Year candidates Montrezl Harrell (18 points) and Lou Williams (six points) combined.
Perhaps this kind of effort against an elite opponent could serve as a turning point for Kuzma. He has been up-and-down with injuries and fluctuations in minutes from coach Frank Vogel, but he could use this as a springboard into the new year.