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Kawhi Leonard Leads Clippers to Xmas Win vs. LeBron James, Anthony Davis' Lakers

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers plays defense against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the game on December 25, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers maintain bragging rights over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019-20 as they were 111-106 winners on Christmas Day at Staples Center.

The Clippers took the first head-to-head encounter on opening night to gain an early edge in the battle for Western Conference supremacy.

Entering the year, the teams' respective stars did their best to play down any intracity rivalry. However, The Athletic's Sam Amick reported in-depth Monday that the Lakers came away frustrated by how Kawhi Leonard handled his free agency, which provided an obvious storyline building up to Wednesday's game.

Beating the Lakers again likely gave the Clippers some added satisfaction.

Patrick Beverley blocked a game-tying three-point attempt by LeBron James with 3.6 seconds remaining to preserve the win.

LIVE on ESPN: NOP@DEN @NBA

@LAClippers @Lakers Pat Bev pokes it away for the crucial stop! #NBAXmas @LAClippers 109 @Lakers 106 3.6 left on ESPN/ABC. LAC ball. https://t.co/G6jKmPjnzv

Although the Clippers and Lakers play twice more this season, plenty of fans will be clamoring for a seven-game playoff series between the teams.

         

Notable Performers

  • Kyle Kuzma, PF, Lakers: 25 points, four rebounds, one steal
  • Anthony Davis, PF, Lakers: 24 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks
  • LeBron James, SF, Lakers: 23 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, two steals, one block
  • Kawhi Leonard, SF, Clippers: 35 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, one steal
  • Paul George, SF, Clippers: 17 points, five rebounds, three assists, three blocks

         

Kawhi Shines Brightest on Christmas

As much as he was doing on defense, George couldn't find his shooting stroke, and Lou Williams was largely anonymous too.

Luckily for the Clippers, they still had Kawhi Leonard.

The Clippers fell behind early and thus had to play catch-up for a lot of the game. The Lakers continued to do just enough to keep their opponents at bay.

Then Leonard hit a game-tying three-pointer with 5:15 remaining.

LA Clippers @LAClippers

.@kawhileonard is a 𝐭𝐫𝐢𝐩𝐥𝐞 threat. https://t.co/ZKZJZeg1Z5

In general, this win was yet another showcase of how great the two-time Finals MVP is when he's firing on all cylinders.

Jovan Buha @jovanbuha

Kawhi has been the best player on the court tonight.

Shea Serrano @SheaSerrano

kawhi has such a beautiful economy of motion — no wasted movements ever — he’s like one of the swiss watches calibrated down to the millisecond

Adi Joseph @AdiJoseph

Kawhi can’t do quite as many things as LeBron, but he’s so incredibly great at playing his game. Comparing them reminds me of Duncan vs. KG.

Justin Termine @TermineRadio

Two games so far between the Clippers and Lakers so far and Kawhi has been the best player in both.

Beverley being the player to seal the result was fitting, though, because the veteran guard was all over the floor. He guarded the perimeter, crashed the boards and helped orchestrate the offense.

jordan cornette @jordancornette

Any hooper would love to have a Pat Beverley on their team. Guy’s motor is incredible. Rebounds like a big, and defends LBJ as the aggressor with no fear.

Nikki Kay @NikkiKaySN1

Patrick Beverley is the family relative at Christmas dinner that keeps asking you questions you don’t want to answer 🤷‍♂️

Matt Winer @MattWinerTV

Pat Beverley is game for ANY matchup, any switch...So disruptive.

There's no question George and Leonard will determine how far the Clippers go in the postseason. Stars effective decide the outcome of the Finals.

Having said that, the likes of Beverley and Montrezl Harrell—who had 18 points and six boards off the bench—arguably make the difference when the Clippers are matched up against the NBA's best teams.

         

Kyle Kuzma's Season-High Point Total Not Enough

James' status was briefly up in the air as he battled a minor groin injury. James suited up and played 39 minutes but didn't look like himself and struggled to make an impact offensively. He still finished with a double-double and nearly had a triple-double but shot 9-of-24 from the field.

In addition to the groin injury, James was being guarded by George, one of the NBA's premier perimeter defenders, for stretches.

Somebody needed to step up for the Lakers, and Kyle Kuzma answered the call.

The backup power forward caught some heat from his teammates for his pregame wardrobe but had the last laugh.

ESPN @espn

.@kylekuzma's teammates roasted him for his Christmas Day fit 😂 (via @QCook323) https://t.co/DsNrimi9Sr

Paolo Uggetti @PaoloUggetti

Kuzma is playing like he wants to prove his pregame fit was actually good.

Kuzma's three-point shooting was particularly valuable since the Lakers were collectively 12-of-45 from beyond the arc.

Bill Oram @billoram

This is largely the product of Kyle Kuzma having a great night and Lou Williams doing next to nothing, but the Lakers bench is outscoring the Clippers reserves 38-16.

LIVE on ESPN: NOP@DEN @NBA

AD denial ➡️ Kuz corner trey! 17-2 LAL run to close the 2nd quarter on ESPN/ABC. #NBAXmas @LAClippers 51 @Lakers 63 https://t.co/U8tXGdIvOh

Matt Winer @MattWinerTV

That AD block > LeBron push & pass > Kuzma transition 3 is basically the Lakers’ blueprint laid out in about five seconds. #NBAChristmasGames

JaVale McGee only scored two points but was a terror inside early on, recording five blocks.

Los Angeles Lakers @Lakers

JaVale with the rejection. Danny with the fake and trey. #LakeShow (📺: @ESPN ) https://t.co/q0Hblbg0y1

NBA on ESPN @ESPNNBA

JaVale McGee out here hustling at the rim 😤 https://t.co/CAMphfozwK

In the first meeting, the Clippers led 62-54 at halftime, which gave them a buffer when the Lakers started strong out of the gate in the second half.

This game was the exact opposite, with the Lakers ahead 63-51 at the half, and the combined contributions of Kuzma and McGee helped them build such a sizable early lead they were ultimately unable to maintain.

                  

What's Next?

The Clippers welcome the Utah Jazz on Saturday. The Lakers hit the road Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers before a five-game homestand.