As long as they shared basketball rights – and hearts – in Los Angeles, there have been remarkably few playoff matchups between the Lakers and Clippers over the years. Like zero to be precise. Fifteen years ago, the Lakers were one win away from creating the first “Hallway Series” at the Staples Center. Last year, the Clippers were one win away from confronting their rivals in the Western Conference finals. Unfortunately, the Lakers have a 3-1 lead over the Phoenix Suns in 2006 and the Clippers over the Denver Nuggets in 2020.
There was a chance they’d play in the first or second round of this year, but the Clippers somehow managed to lose their last two regular season games against two of the league’s worst teams for a possible matchup by the conference finals postpone.
That’s it. A number of things to have, and the very weirdly planned double header on Tuesday night with both LA teams – still the betting favorites in Las Vegas emerging from the Western Conference – give a tip within half an hour and both are trying to come back after dropping the first game of their respective playoff series in the first round.
That night the two teams went in very different directions. The Lakers with the seventh seed defeated the Suns 109-102 with the second seed in front of a loud, mostly maskless crowd of 11,919 spectators in Phoenix to even end their best-of-7 series 1-1 in the direction of Los Angeles.
The fourth seed Clippers looked lost as they tried to undo the brilliance of Dallas Mavericks superstar point guard Luka Doncic (39 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) – masked 6,885 spectators at the Staples Center and lost 127-121, to fall into a 2-0 hole that led back to Dallas.
Only 31 teams in NBA history have won the first two games of a best-of-7 series on the road. 27 of these teams won the series.
Long chances for the Clippers who now need to take a long look in the mirror to find out how the last two seasons, which started with so much promise, could have got so far astray.
Will the tempting battle of LA that seemed so inevitable after the teams fought freehand over Kawhi Leonard two summers ago ever take place?
Luka Doncic continues his brilliant post-season start by scoring 39 points and leading Dallas to a 2-0 lead.
For two teams starting the night in the same hole, they ended it further apart than ever. The Clippers are now two games away from elimination and are in a deep existential crisis. The Lakers apparently have the ship with dominant performances from Anthony Davis (34 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks), LeBron James (23 points, nine assists) and a wounded opponent heading home for two games at the Staples Center , put back in order.
Davis had taken the loss in Game 1 and vowed to do better. After the game, he was asked if James had given him any advice on how to react. Davis said, “We’ve been together for a while now. It doesn’t have to be in my ear. He saw it on my face. Since last year he’s always been looking for perfection, playing hard and playing through environments like these. It pays So I got to the point where I no longer need Bron to tell me what to do now I know. “
James and the Lakers were the first to tip, and they both had experience – James had never lost the first two games of any playoff series in his 14-year career – and the circumstances – Phoenix point guard Chris Paul became the full game with a disabled shoulder injury – on her side.
Even so, Phoenix made a competitive game behind the good performances of Devin Booker (31 points) and reserve guard Cameron Payne (19 points, 7 assists) and another highly efficient night of Deandre Ayton (22 points, 10) bouncing off the 11-13 shooting from).
Payne even gave the Suns a 90-89 lead towards the end of the fourth quarter and found Ayton for a dunk with 5:39 to go. But the James and Davis championship took over the track as they scored 16 of the Lakers’ last 18 points to seal the road win.
As always when Paul is injured in the playoffs, it’s hard to know how different things could have been if he’d been healthy. He made just five shots Tuesday night and left an injured right shoulder for over nine minutes in the second half, preventing him from even attempting a 3-pointer. Both career playoff lows, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Even with Kawhi Leonard’s security guard Luka Doncic, the Clippers had few answers for Doncic, who scored 39 points. Juan Ocampo / NBAE via Getty Images
After Paul was injured, Booker and Payne understood they needed to fill both the goal gap and the lead gap, which they did admirably. But on the line, they had no answer for Davis and James.
“It’s going to be difficult, but we all have to move up,” said Booker. “We don’t know how he’s doing well now. How quickly he’ll recover. But everyone has to give a little more.”
The Clippers tipped off a tip half an hour later and were determined to attack the rim more aggressively against a consistently inconsistent defense in Dallas. They succeeded for the most part.
Leonard scored 30 of his 41 strong points in the first half. George had 28 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. But no one had an answer for Doncic, whose brilliance seems to be growing exponentially.
In the first game in the series, the Clippers hesitated to tire George or Leonard by entrusting them with the defense of Doncic. In game 2 they had no other choice.
Even when the Clippers went to their cheat code: betting Leonard – a former Defensive Player of the Year – on Doncic, he still managed to score eight points on 3 out of 6 shots.
But perhaps the most damaging thing was that Doncic always fielded his teammates when the Clippers tried to stop him. The Mavericks had undisputed 3-handers on Tuesday, hitting a total of 11 out of 14 (79 percent) and 18 out of 34 3-handers.
Tim Hardaway Jr. hit 6 of 8 3-pointers as part of his 28 points. Kristaps Porzingis hit 3-of-4 3s as part of his 20 points.
“I give Luka credit. He’s good. He’s special,” said George. “We have to face the opportunity. If we don’t, we’re finished.”