Takeaways from the Lakers bubble-opening win over the Clippers

Breaking down basketball. Something that hasn’t been done since March 11th. But we’re back.

Last nights game between the Lakers and Clippers meant nothing, but felt like everything. The two teams played as if it were a playoff game, both looking to assert their dominance and mental edge.

The Lakers walked away with the nail biting 103-101 win, and left us with some intriguing observations to discuss.

1. The Sequence That Won It

Lebron James didn’t have a good night. He missed 13 of his 19 shots. He had five turnovers. He failed to get a late-quarter shot off before the buzzer when he had a clear chance to pull up for an open 3. He was on the floor when the Clippers made one of their two big runs. His stat line was quiet, by his standards.

But all of that was erased by his brilliant clutch play on both ends of the floor.

Down the stretch James turned up his focus and energy, and the results were immediate.

His two winning plays were pure effort. After Paul George tied the game with 28 seconds remaining, it became the LeBron James show.

James bled the clock down to 14 but settled for a tough, off-balance floater. He left it short but followed his miss, beating five Clippers to the game’s most important rebound.

Then, on the ensuing possession, James took the task at guarding Kawhi Leonard, like he did on multiple occasions throughout the game. He stifled Leonard on the possession, forcing him to franticly pass the ball to George, who James then switches onto and guides into a tough 3, which was missed at the buzzer.

2. The Lakers need THAT Kyle Kuzma

On the big stage, LeBron is a known commodity. Kyle Kuzma isn’t. Last nights game was the closest experience to a playoff game that Kuzma has ever had. And to his credit he showed up in a huge way.

Kuzma played 32 minutes and only took eight shots. He let the game come to him. Kuzma mostly just served as a spot-up 3-point shooter, an area which, this season, he was decently accurate: 35 percent, compared to 15 percent on pull-ups. Six of Kuzma’s seven attempted 3s were of the catch-and-shoot variety. He made four. He scored 16 important but low-stress points, conserving most of his effort for the defensive end, where he was needed most.

His effort on the defensive end is what will keep him in the games down the stretch. And against the Clippers he proves to be even more important because of his size.

In a 7 game series, having to guard Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will be a draining task, one that James can’t shoulder by himself. KCP is a good defender but undersized. Danny Green is capable but can’t do so for 40 mins a night. Kuzma has the size and quickness to be a difference maker.

In his 32 minutes, the Lakers outscored the Clippers by 12. Why? When Kuzma is on the floor as a small-ball four-man (especially when he’s next to Davis, but even when he’s next to Howard), it gives the Lakers a quicker, more versatile, more switchable defensive lineup.

This version of Kyle Kuzma is what the Lakers need.

3. The Clippers Can’t Contain Anthony Davis

Davis’ final line: 34 points, eight rebounds, four assists, 8-of-19 shooting.

How did he rack up 34 points on just 8 made shots? Well the Clippers are so small and unable to defend Davis that they are forced to hack him roughly half the time he goes up for a shot attempt.

Davis, on Thursday, drew NINE Clippers fouls IN THE FIRST HALF. He drew 12 total. He put half of their team in early foul trouble. Then he capitalized by hitting the free throws.

Davis got to the line 17 times and made 16 free throws. It wasn’t the prettiest basketball to watch but for the Lakers it is effective. Davis is the kind of weapon you need in a nervous, physical environment.

Davis getting the Clippers into foul trouble early has a ripple effect. The Lakers enter the bonus quicker, and the few bigs the Clippers have end up on the bench, making Davis’ job even easier. It may be the blueprint for the Lakers success in a potential playoff series.

4. Basketball is back but it wasn’t pretty

While the game was intense and entertaining, it was also some bad basketball for long stretches.

The Lakers scored 35 points in the first quarter. They only scored 19 in the second. Stretch that drought out into the middle of the third quarter, and the Lakers actually had a 19-minute, mid-game stretch in which they went 6-of-29 shooting and only scored 20 points. They were outscored 40-20, watching a 12-point lead turn into an eight-point hole.

The Lakers got uncreative and went stagnant, relying too often on the dump-it-down to Davis and stand-around approach, hoping he would just make points happen against a set defense. It is easy to fall into that lull when a guy has been carrying you possession after possession but it is something you can’t allow happen.

Turnovers and exhaustion were rampant throughout both teams. The Clippers turned it over much more, but the Lakers failed to convert those turnovers into points. On the other hand, the Clippers converted almost all of the Lakers turnovers into points. I don’t think this is a huge issue as the Lakers usually excel in the open court but it was eye raising.

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