For most of three quarters, the Lakers had them.
But on Christmas, a rare day the Clippers were at full strength, the Lakers couldn’t close.
The Clippers defeated the Lakers 111-106, handing them their fourth consecutive loss in a tough, physical game.
The Clippers are 2-0 against the Lakers this season, adding this win to their opening-night decision.
“We just gotta get better,” Lakers forward LeBron James said. “And I said that even during the win streaks, the road streaks. For me you stay even-keeled throughout the whole season no matter what. No matter if you’re losing, you’re winning. Because it’s a marathon and a new narrative can be made the next day.”
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 35 points.
The Lakers got 23 points from James, 24 points from Anthony Davis and 25 points from Kyle Kuzma. Paul George, who missed their first meeting, scored 15 points for the Clippers, with five rebounds and three assists. Clippers reserve Montrezl Harrell scored 18 points, making eight of 12 shots.
George was asked what he learned about his team Wednesday night.
“We can beat the best,” he said, while noting the importance of also beating teams not of the Lakers’ caliber.
Kuzma had missed the season opener, which was partly why the Lakers’ bench got outscored 60-19 in that game. This time, the Lakers’ bench production was far better, with Kuzma scoring 15 of his points in the first quarter.
It was part of why the Lakers held a 63-51 lead at halftime. After Davis blocked George at the rim, Kuzma made a three-pointer with 23 seconds left in the second quarter, part of a 17-2 run by the Lakers heading into the break.
Defense was a big part of why the Lakers led the Clippers early. JaVale McGee notched five blocks, while James, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dwight Howard each got at least one.
“I think we got back to our defensive intensity tonight, which we were struggling with in our other three losses that we had,” Davis said. “We weren’t playing good defense and I think we got back to it tonight.”
Just before halftime, Davis fell onto the lap of comedian Kevin Hart, who was sitting courtside. Davis sat there, laughing, then James joined him, taking a seat on the diminutive Hart as well.
Their fun ended soon after.
Despite facing a 15-point deficit in the third quarter, the Clippers finished the period with the score tied at 86. The Lakers made one of 10 three-point attempts during that quarter while the Clippers made five of eight.
It was Leonard’s shooting, ultimately, that made much of the difference. The Lakers felt that they also hurt themselves.
“We fouled them every time down, so when you’re taking the ball out of the net on a free throw, it really breaks your offensive rhythm,” Frank Vogel said. “That’s where it started.”
Leonard made all six free throws he attempted in the fourth quarter, Lou Williams made two and George made two more. Lakers wing Danny Green was called for two fouls on Leonard within a 27-second span with 2:30 left in the game.
“In the fourth quarter down the stretch, I really let my team down,” Green said.
Those four free throws by Leonard gave the Clippers a four-point lead. James made one of two free throws to cut the margin to 109-106 with 41.9 seconds left.
Williams missed a three-point try, and James had the ball with the seconds counting down toward the end of the game. He rose to shoot a three-pointer with 3.6 seconds left, and Clippers guard Patrick Beverley deflected the ball out of bounds. It was originally ruled Lakers ball, but the call was reversed after review, with the ball going off James’ hands.
“I’m fortunate I didn’t get a foul,” Beverley said, “especially when you’re guarding a person and a player as good as LeBron James. You just want to stay as solid as possible. I went for it the first time and kind of missed. I thought I was going to get him on the elbow, but he kind of pump-faked and I was able to make a defensive play.”
When the call went the Clippers’ way, coach Doc Rivers clapped, Beverley screamed and James scowled.
“Of course we all wanted it,” Howard said. “I think everybody in L.A. that’s a Lakers fan wanted to see us win tonight. We want to be the best team in June. We want to be the team that’s holding up the trophy. When we do that, nobody will remember the game we lost on Christmas.”