NBA / western conference
Lance & LeBron Stumble To OT Victory In Crucial Clippers Matchup
Tonight's game had wide-reaching implications in the Western Conference playoff race. The Lakers started out the night tied with Sacramento in ninth place and 2.5 games behind the eighth-seed Clippers. Win and you make up valuable ground in the cutthroat conference - lose and you face a cloud of uncertainty that you could've undoubtedly avoided. Thanks to LeBron James (24 pts, 14 rebs, 9 assists, 1 steal, 9/22 FG), Brandon Ingram (19 pts, 4 rebs, 4 assists, 7/12 FG), Rajon Rondo (14 pts, 13 rebs, 7 assists, 1 steal), and Lance Freakin' Stephenson off the bench (20 pts, 6/10 shooting) the Lakers pulled out an unmistakably crucial overtime win over their hometown rival Clippers, 123-120. Lou Williams (24 pts, 6 assists) and Tobias Harris (15 pts, 8 rebs, 8 assists) executed some fourth quarter heroics to tie the game late and bring it to overtime, but the Clips kind of went dead offensively in the extra period. It's funny how momentum can sometimes be killed during the break from the fourth quarter to overtime. The Clippers seemed to have it heading into the extra period All in all, it was one of the most all-around stupid games of basketball I've seen in a while. Just dumb plays by both sides, coaches and players. Somehow, the Lakers ended up taking home the chips in this game of roulette. That's just how things unfold when you buy front row seats to the Out Of Game Shape LeBron and Lance Stephenson Experience. Check out the Rhythm of the Game and Takeaways below Rhythm Of The Game LeBron's basketball cobwebs were there from the get-go. They were basically flowing off of his shoulders as he brought the ball up the court to set the offense. Brons first couple shots clanged but he did get a layup off some off-ball action for his first points of the game. The Lakers were propping James up offensively, particularly Brandon Ingram who hit a couple shots early on to continue his efficient play from last game (16/21 from the field). The Clippers were missing some painfully open shots though. They should've been up by ten but somehow we had a tie game, 14-14 halfway through. Several plays later, LeBron and Rondo took a seat on the bench which left Brandon Ingram and the bench mob to their own devices. Normally I'd be nervous about a lineup that consists of BI, Lance, Beas, Hart, and JaVale....but the guys actually held their own! They closed the quarter on a 12-3 run and made some tough, contested looks (including their free throws - which for the Lakers are tough contested looks). The Clips made a shot at the buzzer, but the Lakeshow walked into the second with a 32-26 advantage. At the start of the second, the Clipper's three started to finally fall. They looked like they were winning the battle of the boards too. Right when the momentum was about to swing in the Clippers favor, the Lakers started discovering their three-ball themselves. KCP and lance both drained a couple to give the Lakeshow a moderate lead before we crossed the halfway mark of the second, 44-38. After that sequence, the Clippers defense came alive in the form of Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverly. Their guards were swiping and stealing just about every other pass the Lakers tried to throw. Dump-ins to the post or errant transition passes were interrupted without fail by the two usual suspects. The Clips offense wasn't humming at the level of their D, otherwise they would've built a strong lead against the Lakeshow. Instead, they let them hang around to and gave up the first half lead to the Lakeshow, 54-53. LeBron still hadn't found his groove on offense yet(5 points, 2/7 FG). Honestly, the best player on offense for the Lakers was Brandon Ingram (11 points, 3 rebs, 2 assists). It was a funky game for LeBron, but that's to be expected after you miss seventeen straight games in the span of five weeks. This one game had enormous implications for both teams playoff hopes. It was going to come down to who battled the most for 50/50 balls and who could execute down the stretch. Rajon Rondo had a nice few minutes of play to kick off the third. The combo of LeBron and Rondo controlling the game was a SORELY missed aspect of the Lakers game plan. Rondo wasn't lighting the basket on fire with his scoring, but he was taking care of the ball and nabbing an inordinate amount of rebounds for a guard. He led all Lakers with 7 rebounds as the Lakers sat up by eight, 69-61. After Rondo and Bron sat out, Brandon Ingram ran the offense once again...and he held up! He was prioritizing passing but when he got the ball at the end of the shot clock in a position where he was forced to create, he managed to put up good shots that found the bottom of the net. The rest of the team was making their shots at a decent clip too, so they couldn't just double Brandon when he got the rock. It was a welcome sight, but we still had a quarter of ball left to play. Lakers up twelve heading into the fourth, 87-75. The Lakers were in perfect position to run away with this game, but the Clippers came out rowdy, busting out a 10-1 run off of Lou Williams three's and hefty transition buckets to make this a game. The once-twelve point game was down to six. The Clippers had their men, but who was going to step up on offense for the Lakeshow? The Clippers were scoring faster than the Lakers could find an answer. Pretty soon, it was a four-point game after many a Clipper hustle play and savvy pick n' roll. They got it all the way down to two before LeBron started taking the game upon himself with a couple clutch fadeaways to maintain the distance. This fourth quarter was quickly becoming tense, and it was taking foreeeever for time to burn off the clock. Two-point game 105-103 with five minutes to play. The remaining possessions were like a heavyweight fight. Haymaker after haymaker as the Clips kept it close, then finally tied it up at 112 after a big Tobias Harris three with less than a minute to go in the whole ballgame. The Lakers had the ball and a full shot clock to make a go-ahead basket....and Lance fucking Stephenson chucked up a three that bricked right as the shot clock started. The Clippers now had a chance to go ahead in the final seconds! The Clippers ran a play that was intended for Lou Williams, but they weren't able to get him or Tobias an open shot. The Clippers scrambled around the perimeter until Avery Bradley threw up a horribly contested shot after burning all the clock. LeBron rebounded it and Lakers took a timeout with ten seconds left to play. Laker ball with the chance to win. LeBron got the ball and drove hard down the middle, but then got stripped by Tobias Harris! Replay showed that LeBron indeed touched it last, so Clippers got the ball with 3.7 left to play. Lou Williams got the ball in the backcourt and chucked up a terrible fading three that airballed. We were headed to overtime! Bron and Rondo opened the OT period with a bucket apiece. Boban made a pair of free throws for the first Clipper baskets of overtime, but the Lakers countered with two of their own to go up four. A couple plays later, Lou Williams picked up a mishandled catch by Rajon Rondo and converted at the other end to cut it to two, 118-116. To make matters even worse, JaVale McGee managed to bobble A FUCKING ALLEY OOP and it rimmed out! Clippers promptly tied it up, but LeBron responded with a fadeaway at the other end. Somehow they were ahead again! Several plays later, Lance Stephenson got the ball with a full head of steam and sunk a driving layup with the and-1! Replay showed that Lance elbowed the crap out of Boban's jaw, but they ended up calling a foul on Boban! They've overturned baskets like this because of similar contact, but this time the refs decided not to overturn the call. Lakers lead by five with 45 seconds to play, 123-118. From there, the Clips were given a couple of unbelievable chances to tie the game, but fate didn't have them converting them tonight. Lakers win 123-120. Takeaways LeBron James returned and had a solid game, but he looked incredibly gassed especially in the fourth quarter and overtime. Forty minutes after coming back from a long-term groin injury probably isn't the best course of action, but you do have to consider how big this game was for the Lakers. If LeBron James can hold his own in terms of health afterward then we are ok. If he has some more groin trouble then I might be questioning whether or not it was worth it. Lance Stephenson was the night's unlikely hero in victory. Tonight we received the full Lance Stephenson Experience. Stupid, nearly game-deciding plays, unbelievable shots, air guitar, hustle & heart on defense, and a little bit of New York streetball chest-puffing. I'm only surprised that the full-blown Lance Stephenson Experience resulted in a Laker win. Still, we must give credit where it's due, and Lance came up as huge. Now that LeBron is back, I feel that I can become fully invested in the Lakers once again. I was invested before, watching every game, but just knowing that LeBron was out and the kids were floundering that badly had me thinking towards the future. Now we can really gauge their playoff chances, because if LeBron kept sitting out then no question we would've missed the postseason. Every game feels like it has significance in this crucial winter stretch of the schedule. Before we know it it'll be March, and going up the playoff ladder will be difficult to impossible. That's why getting a win and jumping one game behind the Clippers for the eight spot is so huge. Given all the hardship and how bad the team has looked in these 17 games LeBron missed, I'm impressed they're only 1 game out of playoff position. Lots of time left to either go up or down in the standings. Tonight was also an important win because the Lakers have an incredibly tough stretch ahead of them. They have to play the Warriors, Pacers, Celtics, Sixers, and Rockets in their next six games. They'll have a cushy matchup against the Hawks, but you can't even take that one for granted either since it's in Atlanta. With LeBron back in the fold, it gives you a little more comfort compared to life without. But aside from LeBron, Brandon Ingram had himself a hell of a night! He had another efficient outing shooting 7/12 from the floor, and was making midrange shots that he'd easily miss just a month ago. I actually had confidence in his jumper tonight, which is the first time that has happened all year. He was in a true rhythm, which is why it was confusing that Luke wasn't going to Ingram more down the stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime. I honestly wanted Ingram to get the final shot because he'd been shooting the best shots all game. Somehow, we still stumbled our way to the win. Now let's see if they can go into Golden State on Saturday and not lose by 10+ against the DeMarcus Cousins Warriors. I just know that if the young guys get shipped out in the next couple days, I'm going to enjoy the positives while I can.