LOS ANGELES — In their third meeting of the season, in one of the most anticipated matchups of the year, the Lakers finally secured their first win over the Clippers with a 112-103 victory, and LeBron James led the way with 28 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and two blocks.
In back-to-back games, James outplayed Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard in nationally televised contests.
“At 35, what this [expletive] is doing is incredible. He is the MVP,” Anthony Davis told Yahoo Sports after registering 30 points, eight rebounds and two steals. “That’s no disrespect to that [expletive] in Milwaukee. Giannis is having a hell of a year, but if you think about what the most valuable player means, that’s ’Bron to us. Look at our numbers when he’s off the floor. He’s the MVP.”
James got to the line 14 times, placing heavy emphasis on attacking the rim, which isn’t an easy feat against the bruising Clippers. He provided the dagger with a drive through the teeth of the defense for an and-one layup late in the fourth quarter.
And when the ball found the bottom of the net, James let out an extended roar.
“I was able to get to the rim a couple times in the fourth quarter. … I’m going to just do whatever it takes for my team to win,” James said. “If my teammates need me to take the challenge defensively, offensively, whatever, I’ll take it. My teammates asked me to do it this weekend and the rest is history.”
The Clippers feature a roster built on flexibility and, probably most importantly, the ability to inflict punishment. The Lakers are viewed as a team that doesn’t like physical contact and there were times when their brawn was tested.
While the Clippers were at the line in the second half of Sunday’s game, Davis moseyed to the other end of the floor to get in offensive position. At first he was in the paint, but then Montrezl Harrell pushed him out.
Harrell kept bodying Davis, preventing him from setting up so close to the basket. And even when Davis was a good distance away from the hoop, Harrell just leaned his 250-pound frame on him. This happened a few more times to the point where an irritated Davis complained to an official that he was being fouled and hacked before the ball was even in play.
Physicality is the Clippers’ identity.
From Harrell, to Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris, their objective is to suffocate the opposition defensively. And this style of play could often lead to a physical pounding over the course of a 48-minute contest.
During those brutal encounters in the paint between Davis and Harrell, the Clippers’ big man let Davis know he wasn’t going to halt his aggressive tactics.
“You’ve got catch me on the run in order to hit me,” Davis told Yahoo Sports of how he responded to Harrell. “I’m not about to change how I play. If they want to do all that physical [expletive], then that’s fine. But I’m going to keep moving and using my speed. That stuff doesn’t bother me at all.”
Beverley was on the receiving end Sunday of what he usually carries out.
Avery Bradley, known for typically being quiet, picked the pocket of Beverley in the opening quarter and then proceeded to yell in his face, prompting a technical for taunting. Beverley tried to instigate a spat with James in the third quarter, but the four-time MVP walked away like nothing happened.
“I don’t think we were chippy at all,” Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said. “It was more so them.”
Leading up to this bout, the Lakers downplayed the importance of getting a win over the Clippers before the playoffs. But it was clear that L.A. really wanted this game.
“Both teams have aspirations of something bigger than a regular season win, but both teams understand that it's a process,” James said. “They want to try to continue to get better throughout the year and put themselves in the position to be at full strength when the postseason comes around. But also not losing sight of what needs to happen today or tomorrow. I know that's from our perspective and it looks like they're doing the same.”
In a possible Western Conference finals preview between two teams with contrasting styles, the Lakers took Round 3 and discovered they don’t have to change their approach to compete and beat their in-town rival.
“We’re a good team just the way we are,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “We’re not soft, we’re pretty good and especially with [LeBron].”
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