LOS ANGELES — A nervous energy pulsed through Staples Center during the intracity showdown between the Lakers and Clippers on Wednesday. A somewhat hobbled LeBron James appeared tentative for the Lakers in the opening half, while the Clippers threw the ball around the gym with impunity. As the game tightened after halftime, the intensity heightened with each possession, many of them frenetic fire drills.
The lights always shine brighter on Christmas, but this matchup felt more May than December — like Game 1 of a high-stakes playoff series featuring two elite teams feeling each other out for the long haul.
The Clippers ultimately prevailed 111-106 behind Kawhi Leonard‘s brutal efficiency and Patrick Beverley‘s gutsy strip of James in the closing seconds, capping a rousing comeback. Yet the takeaway from Los Angeles is that the Clippers’ victory is but a preamble to a much richer story.
“It’s a long season,” James said. “It’s a marathon.”
“It does nothing,” Leonard said when asked what his team’s victory meant to the Lakers-Clippers rivalry. “It’s one game out of a season. Whoever won this game was not going to win the L.A. championship or anything. Both teams got their eyes on the biggest prize.”
Leonard isn’t deflecting or downplaying, and his sentiment is the Clippers franchise’s official position. The Clippers are well aware that the only commonalities between the two organizations is a city and a building. The Lakers embrace their storied history (16 championships and a claim as one of the most prestigious brands in global sports), while the Clippers seek to reverse theirs (decades of abject failure in the shadow of an odious owner who was ejected from the NBA).
Nine weeks into the season, the Lakers and Clippers are two teams getting to know each other while they also get to know themselves. Prior to the Christmas contest, coaches Frank Vogel and Doc Rivers talked in similar terms about the nascent quality of their teams.
Vogel stated that both the Lakers and Clippers are at “a continuity disadvantage,” given the massive influx of new talent into both locker rooms. Only three of the 10 starters on Wednesday began last season