Twice on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers threatened to run away with their Christmas day matchup against the crosstown Clippers.
Twice the Clippers clawed their way back as Kawhi Leonard led a fourth-quarter rally to secure a second straight ‘Battle of Los Angeles’ win.
The Lakers took control in the second quarter with a 17-2 run to close the half with a 63-51 lead.
After the Clippers rallied to tie the game at 86, the Lakers went on another run to take a 101-94 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Clippers take control late
But the last run belonged to the Clippers as Leonard took over down the stretch to once again shine as the brightest star of the burgeoning rivalry between the Western Conference’s two top contenders.
Leonard scored 11 of his 35 points in the game’s final stanza as Patrick Beverley secured the 111-106 victory with a block of LeBron James in the game’s final seconds, sending the Lakers to their fourth straight loss.
As invested as the NBA and the city of Los Angeles are in stoking the rivalry between the two powers, Leonard — true to form — showed little interest in promoting it after the win.
“It does nothing,” Leonard told ESPN after the game of what the win means for the rivalry. “It’s one game out of the season. Whoever won this game is not gonna win an L.A. championship or anything. Both teams have got their eyes on the biggest prize.”
Leonard snatches hero status from James
Before the Clippers closed the game on a 17-5 run, James was setting himself up to be the hero. After struggling with his shot for most of the game, James scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and helped Los Angeles extend its lead as Anthony Davis rested on the bench.
But he and his Lakers teammates went cold in the game’s pivotal stretch as they missed their last seven 3-point shots over the final 4:10 of the game. As it has for much of the season, the Clippers’ perimeter defense played a starring role in a big win.
Clippers clamp down on defense
The Clippers held the Lakers to 40.6 percent shooting from the field and 12-of-45 (26.7 percent) from behind the arc. James finished shooting 9-of-24 from the floor and 2-for-12 from long distance.
The Lakers opened their early lead behind hot shooting from Kyle Kuzma, who scored 15 first-quarter points and finished with 25. Davis tallied 24 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks. But Leonard and the Clippers’ defense were too much in the end.
While Leonard added 12 rebounds and five assists to his 35 points, no other Clippers player broke the 20-point barrier. Paul George tallied 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and three blocks while Montrezl Harrell added 18 points and six rebounds off the bench.
Lou Williams made little impact off the bench, scoring six points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field.
But as has been the case throughout much of his career, Leonard’s effort was enough to carry his team to victory.
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