ClipperBlogger (and ACC junkie) is currently on leave, sunning himself in Maui watching the Classic (I’m sure he relished the Tech comeback from 16 down at the half, although, sorry, I’m feeling UCLA FTW).  Anyway, several hours before LAC-LAL tip-off, I received an unexpected, angry missive: “There's nowhere on this damn island to watch the Clipper game.  I've called every sports bar from here to Lanai.”   I was now officially charged with posting a recap of the night's action.  Kevin, I don’t know how you do it, but reliving this game through rewind / replay, having to think about how a team I root for, and a team with superior personnel, loses to a team I absolutely loathe… I kind of want to light something on fire right now…

Going Into The Game - of course, Livingston and Kaman are on all our minds.  And while it was great to see Brand have a breakout game against Philly, hoping it's not an anomaly.  Wondering how ugly our offense will look today.  Matchup wise, interested in seeing Bynum-Kaman, Kwame-Kaman, how Odom is handled, and of course, whoever Dunleavy tasked with handling #24.  You know that douchebag is gonna come in fired up for this game... 

1st Half – both teams come out with the high energy / sloppy execution you’d expect in a high-intensity, physical rivalry game:

  • Return of Kaman - Maybe all the press Bynum gets has served to motivate our resident headcase, because he finally showed some signs of life, first time this season – he was active on the boards, blocking shots, clogging the middle as only a legit NBA center can, and displaying the fluidity on offense we love.  (Dude is bordering on graceful.)   Ended the 1st half 2 for 6 but they were all very makeable FGs…
  • Brand is Brand – it’s clear recent lighter game schedule has helped him alot. 
  • Kobe – uh, gimme a f’in break this guy is unreal doesn't matter who guards him at this point - GG refs.
  • Luke Walton – honestly… WTF? I've always liked his game but no way is he this good.
  • LAC 48 - LAL 51

3rd Quarter - started off with us trading baskets and quickly devolved into a mess:

  • WTF At Our Perimeter Defense - There was a 4-possesion stretch for the Lakers, beginning at the 7 minute mark, where they converted 3 three-pointers, running this "play": give Kobe the ball who dribbles near the elbow, have him wait for high-screen or slow Clipper double-team, pass to a now wide-open Odom or Smush (would be nice if Mobley or Cassell would switch or rotate in this spot), convert 3-ball.   This was a critical period where the Lakers stretched their lead from 3 to 9.
  • WTF at Our Substitutions – Feels like Dunleavy has a tendency to stay with lineups too long when they’re not working.  Mobley and Q were giving us nothing for the first half of the 3rd quarter.  Livingston and Maggette get subbed in boom!  We cut what had grown to a 13 point deficit back down to 9 at the end of the 3rd
  • LAC 74 - LAL 83

4th Quarter – down the stretch execution isn’t there:

  • Livingston is a Straight Up Baller  - opening minutes of 4th quarter, we are riding Shaun - he’s just converted 4 straight FGs, the last a 3 to tie it up with about 8 minutes to go.  This stretch will go on the highlight reel his agent sends out to teams after he turns down a Clipper extension and waits for a max offer.  Shaun ends up with a nice line for 20 minutes (9 points / 1 steal / 1 block / 1 TO), played great D, just looked confident and in control.
  • Turnovers – whoah, 19 with 6 minutes to go…
  • Kaman Fouls Out – but he had his first solid game of the season.  Only 5-12 FG, but 12 / 10 / 4 blocks.  I wonder what Kaman’s + / - was tonight we just looked like a much better team with him on the floor. 
  • 3:00 Remain - Shot Selection Down the Stretch is Atrocious
    • It's a 1-point game, here’s what we decide to run on the offensive end (Shaun / Q / Maggette / TT / Brand on the floor)
    • 2:58 – Post-up Corey against Luke Walton, drives baseline gets hungup under the basket, desperation layup / attempt to draw foul results in blocked shot
    • 2:28 – Brand moving pick, TO #20
    • 2:02 – Sam back in the game for Shaun.  Passes to TT at top of key, swings it around to Q who drives towards the lane, finds what appears to be an open Maggette at the 3-point line, but Luke is all over that, deflects shot attempt, Brand gets the ball back misses baseline jumper
    • 1:19 – Sam waits for Brand screen top of key, penetrates as defenders collapse, finds Q open for a 3, he nails it
    • Laker offense update:  they’ve scored a bunch we’re down by 6 now
    • 0:46 – Sam rushes ball down, passes to TT who finds Corey hanging out at the 3-point line, draws a foul with shots coming
    • Corey manages to hit both FTs, cutting it to 4, only to moments later have a wide open Walton drain a 3 with 0:30 left, game over.

Looking at the box score, we see that we were outrebounded (-7 OFFREB, all Kwame), turned the ball over more (+6) and took way less free throws (whopping -25 for us).  But, as is often the case with NBA games, merely noting “well, if we blocked out, took better care of the ball, and Kobe doesn't get to the line as much, we would've won" doesn't give you much.  We shot 48% from the field.  They shot 37%.  Their OFFREB advantage is offset by the low FG% given up by our typical stellar D.   And despite the TO differential, we had basically the same points off of TOs as the Lakers.  Playoff-intensity NBA games involving intracity rivals have a way of even-ing themselves out near the end of regulation... 

I realize this is reductive - but I think we all expected this to be close - no one was rolling over in the 1st game of this rivalry.  To no one's surprise, it was up for grabs with 3 minutes left - the game slate is wiped clean and it's all about execution down the stretch.  Our inability to give our best offensive players a chance to win for us is not an unfamiliar story, and we saw it last season.  It's still early and there's a long way to go, but we can't afford to let games like this slip away in the manner we did.

Elite teams rarely do, and they find a way to win.