What a blast-off by the Lakers’ castoffs
Never saw this coming. Never felt this happening.
Never thought the Clippers would begin their march to the NBA Finals by tripping over the Lakers ... bench?
Never thought new Clippers Coach Doc Rivers would watch the first step toward his second championship ring tarnished by … Mike D’Antoni?.
Never thought a Staples Center that contained some loud Clippers fans — including one dude who infiltrated the Lakers courtside seats—would once again roar for the Lakers as if it were June.
Never thought they would be roaring for … Xavier Henry?
Believe it. The building is still rocking from it. The NBA experts are still reeling from it. A season that is one day old might already have its upset of the year .
On the first step of the Clippers’ supposed championship run Tuesday, the Lakers hit them over the head with a bench, kicked them in the gut with energy, and stole this season-opening moment with the unlikeliest of 116-103 victories.
That’s right, a Lakers team playing with mostly old guys and castoffs — and without Kobe Bryant — beat the NBA’s newest glamour teams with its new glamour coach by 13 points, outscoring them by 17 points in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers aren’t supposed to make the playoffs. The Clippers aren’t supposed to be knocked out until at least the NBA Finals. Yet what ensued was so upside down, the Lakers’ faces were filled with shocked joy and the Clippers couldn’t even look up from the floor.
“Man, that was fun,” said Henry, a Memphis castoff who led the Lakers with 22 points, including a dozen in a fourth-quarter comeback engineered completely by the reserves. “We just want to prove everybody wrong.”
This might be only one game. This might be only one moment. The Lakers might never again feel and express the joy that came from Tuesday’s 14 three-pointers and a sprinting attack that ran the disjointed Clippers ragged.
But goodness, for this one night, they indeed proved everybody wrong. It was Showtime from a team expected to spend the season in down time. Besides Henry, it was fist pumps and swaggers from former Lakers castoff Jordan Farmar, who returned from a season in Turkey to score 16 points off the bench. It was skips and struts from reserve Jodie Meeks, who scored nine points in the fourth quarter. The Lakers’ bench scored 76 points, third most in team history.
And, oh yeah, it was a horrendous defensive effort from a Clippers team that is still clearly learning Rivers’ patented defense. Rivers was hired to teach this contending team to win games in the fourth quarter, yet the Clippers allowed the Lakers to shoot 65% during a fourth quarter in which DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin combined for three points.
“Everybody said we weren’t going to beat them, and we were like, fine,” Henry said. “We thought, if they want to beat us, they had to show up and beat us.”
This was supposed to be Rivers’ debut party. It was, instead, perhaps D’Antoni’s finest 21/2 hours, his team finally running and rolling the way he’s always planned.
This was supposed to be a reborn Clippers team’s first national statement, a game filled with Chris Paul’s magic and Griffin’s acrobatics. It was, instead, a reminder that the Lakers, despite predictions of doom this season, still know how to be the Lakers.
The Lakers not only won, but they won with starters Pau Gasol and Steve Nash sitting. Trailing by four points at the start of the fourth quarter, the Lakers stormed back with the most unlikely of heroes. Henry hit a layup. Farmar hit a three-pointer. Meeks hit a three-pointer, then a layup and was fouled for a three-point play. Henry made a three-pointer. The Lakers were suddenly up by four with 8:23 remaining, and the Clippers never really fought back.
Even the coolest of celebrities were excited.
“I’m literally jumping up and down like a 12-year-old,” tweeted Adam Levine, lead singer from Maroon Five.
Even the most animated of celebrities were also excited.
Cheering wildly from behind the courtside seats was Dodgers kid star Yasiel Puig, who began the game by singing along with the blaring pregame song by the Black Eyed Peas.
The night was so crazy, even an appearance by Bryant, who probably will miss at least the season’s first month while recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, went virtually unnoticed.
Midway through the second quarter, he slipped into the second row of the bench. He was dressed in a black suit and tie. He was staying strangely quiet. In fact, a quick check of his Twitter account revealed that he didn’t even tweet.
“It’s his rehab. ... He has his hands full with that,” D’Antoni said.
If Tuesday was any indication, Bryant might want to hurry back. Who knows? He could be missing all the fun.
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