Woefully undermanned on the night, the Lakers pulled out their best performance of the season on Wednesday, knocking off the Clippers for the first time since the NBA bubble, 130-125.
LeBron James looked as dominant as ever, pouring in 35 points on 13-19 shooting. D’Angelo Russell had a second consecutive strong showing with 27 points while Anthony Davis had 27 points with 10 rebounds, though his defensive impact was as remarkable as anything on the night.
Austin Reaves, for the first time this season, finally came alive in the second half, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists. Christian Wood had a huge offensive and defensive effort, scoring 10 points with 11 rebounds.
It was easily the best Lakers-Clippers game of the LeBron-AD/Kawhi Leonard-Paul George era with all four players scoring at least 27 points. On top of that, all four were at the center of basically all the biggest moments of the evening as well.
The Lakers were dealt blows on the injury report throughout the day. Rui Hachimura, who missed Monday’s game against the Magic, was ruled out on Wednesday with concussion symptoms. Gabe Vincent, as Darvin Ham revealed pregame, had his knee swell up and was also ruled out.
The last, and maybe most damaging, injury update came when Taurean Prince experienced soreness in his knee during warm-ups. While he wasn’t immediately scratched from the game, he did not start, never took to the court and eventually was ruled out in the second half.
Paired with the injury to Jarred Vanderbilt, the Lakers were conceivably down four of their top nine rotation players and nearly the entirety of their wing depth. The end result was eight available players and three two-way guys, leaving the Lakers very short-handed.
It didn’t help that the Clippers, as they’re prone to do against the Lakers, came out with a bit of extra pep in their step despite playing a back-to-back the night prior and down a host of players after the recent James Harden trade.
Behind a first-quarter onslaught from Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers raced away to a 19-point lead. The Lakers salvaged something late in the frame with 3-pointers from Christian Wood and Austin Reaves. But even then, they went into the second quarter trailing by 13 with the Clippers having shot 16-23 from the field.
The Lakers continued their run into the second quarter but missed shots and turnovers kept the margin above 10 throughout the opening six minutes of the second quarter. Finally, they got over the hump and the lead back down to single digits after a dunk from LeBron after losing, and putting back on, his shoe just past the midway point of the quarter.
LeBron lost his shoe, put it back on, then ran the floor to throw it DOWN.— NBA (@NBA) November 2, 2023
All in the same play
: Lakers-Clippers | Live on ESPN pic.twitter.com/E4xQU4wuFm
Kawhi’s return to the floor alongside George restored some order for the Clippers and the lead was stretched back out to double digits once more. While Kawhi only hit one field goal in the second quarter, the Clippers continued scoring and, if not for a pair of 3-pointers from LeBron, the lead would have been larger than the 61-48 deficit the Lakers faced at the break.
The Lakers kept plucking away in the third, though, and after a Cam Reddish block on Kawhi, Anthony Davis got the rebound putback plus a foul to pull the Lakers back to within nine points at 78-69.
Then, Darvin Ham unleashed his secret weapon in a lineup featuring Jaxson Hayes, Christian Wood and Davis. Stunningly, it was a lineup that worked and worked well. It helped that Austin Reaves got his swagger back by breaking ankles and hitting back-to-back jumpers before finding Wood for an open 3-pointer to make it a one-point game and force a timeout.
Austin Reaves: Breaker of Ankles pic.twitter.com/tPGnVS7aYD— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 2, 2023
A steal from Max Christie out of the timeout led to a pair of freebies, giving the Lakers the lead. With a three-center lineup still on the floor, the Lakers continued to get stops as the fever dream continued. By the end of the quarter, with LeBron on the bench, the Lakers led by two after outscoring the Clippers 39-24 in the period.
Jaxson Hayes came in for Cam Reddish with 4:22 to go in the 3rd quarter and the Lakers down 80-72. From there, the three-center lineup went on a 15-5 run to take the lead— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) November 2, 2023
After Cam Reddish nearly detonated on Ivica Zubac with a huge dunk attempt, the Lakers went on a 6-0 run starting with Reddish’s free throws along with a fastbreak layup from Russell and a James jumper. The 100-95 lead was the largest of the night for the Lakers and forced a Clippers timeout.
Russell continued his hot shooting, Reddish continued his strong defensive showing and LeBron continued turning back the clock as the Lakers kept putting more cushion between them and the Clippers.
The Clippers had one last hurrah in them, though, as missed free throws from Reddish, LeBron and Davis left the door open for a Paul George layup and foul. He immediately atoned for missing that free throw with a 3-pointer after Russell missed a shot at the rim to make it a one-point game.
On the ensuing in-bounds, Reddish was called for an egregiously late foul on a 3-point attempt by George that was upheld after a challenge. George knocked down all three shots to tie the game at 117-117. The Lakers opted not to call timeout and got an open look from Russell on the wing, but the shot missed and the game went to overtime.
George immediately fouled out of the game on the Lakers' first possession. Without his remarkable shot-making that got them to overtime, the Clippers struggled offensively. After Wood forced a turnover on Kawhi, LeBron delivered a loud exclamation point on his remarkable night with a huge alley-oop slam.
Kawhi had an and-one that pulled the Clippers back within two points but Reaves extended it to a four-point game with just over a minute to go. Kawhi then responded with his own remarkable shot-making to hit a 3-pointer and make it a one-point game.
Reaves would draw a foul the next possession, but the final punctuation came on a Wood putback dunk to end the drama and seal the win.
What a game. Easily the best performance from the Lakers this season. The offense looked as good as it had all season and, after a very lethargic first quarter, they had a strong defensive showing as well.
Realistically, if not for some absolutely incredible shot-making from George and Leonard down the stretch and in overtime, the Lakers looked set for a comfortable win. It’s not as simple as saying that, though, as it’s the NBA and everyone has incredible shot-makers.
But after four games in which there were more questions than answers at times, this win felt really good.
Now, the Lakers embark on a four-game road trip that will start on Saturday in Orlando. Being on the opposite coast means an early tip-off at 4 p.m. PT with the game broadcast on Spectrum.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.