This game looked exactly like everyone expected it to look, for Lakers fans a lot like like the Oklahoma City game a couple of nights before. The Clippers had won the previous seven meetings and 11-of-12, and this game was going to fit right in that mold.
The Clippers started to pull away in the middle of the first quarter when they went on a little 13-4 run, then just carried that over into the second — the Clippers were up 10 points after one quarter, 16 at the half. Kobe Bryant would make a few threes and thrill the crowd in his final Christmas Day game, but in general, he could not change the dynamic of this contest. The Lakers were getting crushed in the paint, and had zero fast break or second chance points in the first 24 minutes. The third saw more of the same from the Clippers, with a late 14-0 run stretching their lead to 28 after 36 minutes. Chris Paul had 21 points after three, Blake Griffin 13, and these two teams were not in the same class. Ballgame. The Clippers starters went to the bench and an enjoyable Christmas Day of basketball was going to end with 12 minutes of garbage time.
Except the Lakers’ reserves, led by Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell, didn’t know they were supposed to roll over. In a battle of reserves the Clippers’ bench — which has been unimpressive all season — the Lakers’ bench and young stars owned the Clips.
The Lakers went on a 25-4 run, which forced Doc Rivers to re-insert his starters. Which he did, and eventually the bleeding was stopped and the Clippers got a 94-84 win. But on the first night of a back-to-back and having to travel to Utah to play a feisty Jazz team, the Clippers starters were not happy they had to come back in and save the day.
We’ve broken down in detail here what a mess the Clipper bench is. It is the principal thing holding the Clippers back from seeming like a real threat to Golden State or the Spurs — Los Angeles is great until you remove one starter from the equation. That was on full display to a national audience… well, the ones that hadn’t already turned this dud off.
This was not a game where it felt like we learned anything new. The Clippers starters are a force of nature, their bench a mess. The Lakers are not good, but their young players show moments of what could be in a few years (plus there are a handful of vintage Kobe moments). Chris Paul finished with 23 points and six assists, J.J. Redick had 14 points. On the other side, Russell led the Lakers with 16 points.
Maybe that fourth quarter run will get Byron Scott to start Russell and Randle again, although the real key for the youngsters is to stagger them minutes from Kobe — let them develop chemistry, not defer.