The Los Angeles Lakers pulled off a stunning 116-103 victory on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Studying the faces of reporters covering the teams and covering the national sports scene, this was not meant to happen. As much as the media asked players and coaches to explain the game, the brain did not want to believe what the eyes had seen.
The Los Angeles Clippers had fired their coach and brought in a proven leader. The Lakers were without Kobe Bryant, and a bunch of nobodies dressed in purple and gold were expected to feel the brunt of one of the early favorites to win the Western Conference.
Chris Paul of the Clippers was presented as the best point guard in the league and one of the top five players in the NBA ahead of the season opener. On the night, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol and Xavier Henry could all legitimately claim they outplayed CP3.
No coincidence, three of those Lakers listed were bench players for the Lakers. The bench was so effective that Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni left his reserves on the floor for all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter.
After three quarters, the Clippers led by four points, and just about everyone expected Paul to close out the ball game. Paul would drive his team to victory against an outmatched group of inexperienced Lakers, and the Lakers showed good energy and chemistry, but talent beats effort.
Only, that didn’t happen.
Instead, the Lakers’ bench closed the deficit and steadily built a lead. When Paul and Blake Griffin entered the game with 9:06 remaining in the ball game, the Clippers trailed by three. Over the next six minutes, the Lakers’ bench embarrassed the Clippers starting unit and opened up a 17-point lead.
Previously unknown to the masses in Los Angeles, Henry made a name for himself. He shot 4-5 with two 3-pointers in the final 12 minutes and finished with a career-high 22 points.
“I’ve got an opportunity, and I’m trying to make the most of it,” Henry said after the game. “We’re not scared of anybody. We have a great group of guys, and we’re fearless.”
Henry was the standout, but every member of the Lakers’ second unit contributed to fourth quarter performance. Hill was a perfect 4-4 from the field and pulled down five offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. Farmar played the point for the final 12 minutes and dished out three assists and netted nine points. Jodie Meeks found his touch and poured in nine points on four shots. Although Wesley Johnson did not have any eye-popping stats to offer, he shut down Griffin when the game was on the line.
The Clippers’ All-Star power forward played over eight minutes of the final quarter and offered zeros across his fourth quarter stat-line, save for two turnovers.
Ultimately, the Lakers have only won one game out of 82, but the style of the victory offers a great deal of promise for a season that many fans were dreading. After one night, this season is already better than the “Dwightmare.”