LOS ANGELES — The STAPLES Center is separated from the restaurants at L.A. Live by Chick Hearn Court, which is always closed off to traffic in the hours leading up to any event at the arena. An hour before tip-off for the Clippers’ “home” game on Sunday, the street was lined with fans, all decked out in purple and gold, chanting “let’s go Lakers!”
Even if the signage on the arena exterior showed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but make no mistake about it: This was a home game for the Lakers, and their fans acted like it.
Lakers fans have been hearing all season from the doubters that their team couldn’t beat the crosstown rival Clippers. On top of that, Laker supporters who reside in Southern California are forced to drive past all the billboards and ads that litter the city, talking up the Clippers’ supposedly superior grit. Daily reminders that they hadn’t beaten Kawhi Leonard and Co. yet.
Those voices have been silenced, for now, after LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Avery Bradley all came up huge to lead the Lakers to a massive 112-103 win.
“I’m a great halftime speaker,” head coach Frank Vogel joked. “This weekend the third quarter was good for us. We had an 18-0 run against Milwaukee in the third and we talked about it at halftime today and said this is going to be our quarter.”
That is exactly what it turned out to be. The Lakers outscored the Clippers by eight points in the third, and took a four-point lead into the fourth.
As the lead started to grow, Lakers fans could sense it. A win over the “deepest” team in the league that would taste oh so sweet. A victory in the two sides’ first matchup since they both decided to load up with their trade deadline and buyout additions. Possibly the final showdown until the postseason between both teams when they still have things to play for.
A three-possession sequence midway through the fourth threw Lakers fans into a frenzy.
With 6:56 left on the clock, James drove and finished a right-handed lay in to put the Lakers up 96-87, and all the people clad in purple and gold roared loudly. On the next Clippers possession, when Davis stepped in and took a charge against Paul George, the cheers became a little louder. Then, after Davis hit a three from the corner, putting his team up 99-87, Lakers fans exploded.
“All STAPLES Center games feel like home games,” Vogel said. “Lakers fans turn out no matter where we are, but in particular, for this road game.”
It was clear how much this win means to James when he got past Marcus Morris for a driving and-one layup with 40.8 seconds left on the clock. The King reacted by jumping into the air, pounding his chest with both fists and yelling out to his teammates.
“This was a really good weekend for us,” James said. “Just the way we kept our composure throughout the whole games for 96 minutes. No matter what was going on throughout the course of the game, we held our composure and continued to get stops, continued to execute.”
Those same “let’s go Lakers!” chants you could hear outside the building two-and-a-half hours earlier echoed throughout the arena as the clock wound down.
The players reveled in it. Kyle Kuzma put an imaginary crown onto James’ head. There were high fives and smiles on the bench. They know just how big this win is.
“It was very important,” starting center JaVale McGee said. “Just to quiet the doubters. The Lake Show is the best team in the world right now.”
This weekend, they went out and proved it.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jas on Twitter at @jaskang21.