The Los Angeles Lakers headed back to Staples Center for the Hallway Series Friday night, facing their roommates, the Los Angeles Clippers, looking to come away with their first win since acquiring multiple game changing players in the off season.
With the expected news that Steve Nash will be out of action due to the leg contusion he suffered in Los Angeles’ second loss of the season versus the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers were in a dire need of discovering their defensive rhythm to avoid the worst start they’ve produced since 1978, one year before drafting Magic Johnson.
The Clippers won their only regular season game thus far, against the Memphis Grizzlies, with key contributions from the Clippers bench. The depth of the Clippers bench is something that needs to be addressed and nullified if the Lakers expect to hand Dwight Howard his first victory as a member of the Purple and Gold.
Kobe Bryant’s lack of worry is definitely something to keep both teammates and fans optimistic this early in the season, but this needed win could settle the doubts in the back of many minds within only the first week of the Lakers’ long and strenuous NBA campaign.
The Lakers landed their first point of the night off of a Dwight Howard free throw, an obvious improvement for the man who has struggled previously from the line. Kobe Bryant tied the franchise record for most steals with a snag off of a bad pass by Blake Griffin, etching his name into yet another plaque and setting an even higher standard for future players.
That steal swiftly increased the speed of play on both ends of the court, but the Clippers were able to keep up with the momentum and take a seven point lead just as the half way mark was passed in the quarter. Bryant sunk another two point basket, however, to halt the Clippers run and force a timeout.
Caron Butler continued to destroy the minimal attempts the Lakers made at defense on him, nailing all three of his first three attempts in the game, quickly tallying nine points on the board. A beautiful shot clock beating rainbow three-pointer from Bryant proved that he was solely carrying the Lakers offense within the first 12 minutes of the match up.
Thankfully for the Lakers, the quarter finally came to a close and despite their five turnovers the hosts only found themselves down 28-23 at the end of the first. Kobe Bryant lead the team with 14 points, scoring four of his seven attempts.
The Lakers continued to commit thoughtless fouls even after the break, and found themselves creating turnovers instead of offensive opportunities to regain a lead. They found themselves down a startling 11 points after the Clippers came out on a 6-0 run, topped off with former Laker Matt Barnes driving in a lineup forcing Mike Brown to call a timeout.
Darius Morris sunk a three for the Lakers off of a Howard pass to secure the hosts first points of the quarter, and Steve Blake followed up with an identical three from the same location to cut the Clippers lead to seven. The Lakers continued to struggle offensively, finding themselves on multiple occasions with no time left on the shot clock and no movement being made on the floor. To make matters worse, their defense wasn’t much better, as Dwight picked up his third foul early with over seven minutes still on the clock.
The five minute rest Kobe Bryant received was just what the doctor ordered, however, as a 5-0 Lakers run was initiated as soon as he stepped back on the floor. Metta World Peace made a wide open three from the baseline to cut the deficit to only five, and the Clippers found this to be a great time to use one of their timeouts.
The Lakers slowly began to find themselves making smarter offensive plays, drawing defenders to the ball handler and threading the ball to the open man who thus sunk the wide open attempt. These plays faded away as soon as they appeared, however, and the Clippers looked ready to run away with the game yet again just before the half. Pau Gasol had different ideas planned, finally making his offensive presence known with back to back buckets in a 30 second spurt keeping the Lakers nipping at their rivals heels.
A final three-pointer from Devin Ebanks with 19 seconds remaining in the half drastically cut the Clippers lead down to just two. Unfortunately, a huge 27-foot three-pointer from Caron Butler as the clock struck zero gave the Clippers a bigger cushion headed into the locker room, as the Lakers trailed 47-52 at the half.
The first four minutes of the third quarter were shooting clinics for both teams, as both rosters found three men nailing three baskets each to finally showcase some offensive performances, especially for the hosts.
Just as expected, the Clippers bench continued to give the visitors the edge over the Nash-less Lakers. A huge offensive performance from Jamal Crawford, who at one point had just as many points alone as the whole Lakers bench combined, proved the Lakers needed someone to step up quickly in the second string. Otherwise, as soon as the likes of Bryant and Howard take needed breaks on the bench, the opposition can counter with offensive surges to pull farther and farther away. The Clippers repeatedly did just that.
Dwight Howard proved his worth defensively when, with the help of Pau Gasol, the two big men shut Blake Griffin out of the post with a big block to stop another Clippers run. Just as soon as Howard walked off the court after being subbed, Griffin went back down the court and drove in a layup over lonely Gasol with not much contest from anyone else, showing another hole in the Lakers second string that needs to be addressed.
The Lakers found themselves inching closer and closer to the Clippers lead as the third quarter wore on, even cutting it to a simple three points after Steve Blake put away a pair of free throws with six minutes remaining in the third. They were unable to string together anything substantial in the closing minutes of the quarter, and after another drought from the Lakers and run by the Clippers, the Lakers found themselves down once again a big 82-67.
The final quarter started off all Kobe Bryant, deja vu to last season where Bryant found himself leading his team offensively a majority of the season until he eventually wore out. Opening up on a 6-0 run, Bryant dominated the floor, grabbing a defensive rebound on one end and quickly transitioning to offense to sink another two points.
Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom answered consecutively for the Clippers, keeping their teams lead healthy despite the biggest single efforts from Bryant. Once again the Lakers killed themselves by turning the ball over in a fantastic offensive opportunity, when Steve Blake’s poor pass totaled to turnover number 18 with five minutes still remaining in the game.
Dwight Howard finally woke back up on both ends of the court, and combined with hot shooting Kobe, cut down the Clippers lead to single digits with four minutes remaining when they trailed 85-93. A huge bank shot from Matt Barnes seemed to seal the deal for the Clippers, who had not lost the lead since the first quarter when they were shortly trailing the Lakers 5-4.
Despite Kobe Bryant’s huge offensive output, the Lakers were never able to retaliate against the Clippers depth. The Clippers bench solely destroyed the Lakers at home, and the purple and gold were handed their third loss in as many attempts as they fell at home, 105-95.