After losing the first two meetings involving Los Angeles' two NBA teams, the Lakers finally claimed a victory over the Clippers, 112-103, on Sunday afternoon in front of a raucous crowd that was split on allegiance.
Was Sunday a statement game for the Lakers? It sure felt like it.
On the heels of beating the Milwaukee Bucks, the league's top team and a hot pick to make the NBA Finals, the win over the Clippers provided an exclamation mark for the statement LA had already made against the leading candidate for MVP and the Bucks on Friday.
Photos: Lakers and Clippers Battle for LA
After two failed attempts, the Lakers finally slayed the dragon, a monster that most expect to stand in the path of the purple and gold en route to the NBA Finals. Finally beating the Clippers seemed to end the doubt and silence the few remaining non-believers.
After Sunday, the Lakers elevated to clear favorites to emerge out of the Western Conference.
As far as the game itself, the Clippers went ahead in the first half and held a lead entering the break. Paul George was spectacular early on, leading all scorers with 19 points before the intermission. Kawhi Leonard had 12 points at that stage, but Anthony Davis and LeBron James combined for 31 first-half points to nearly match the Clippers' dynamic duo.
"I was just attacking and trying to put pressure on them," George said of his hot-shooting in the first half. "I found some seams to get all the way to the basket and I just wasn't going to settle tonight. I was just going to try and put pressure on them. I found a crack early and I just saw a window where I could continue to keep attacking."
Get Los Angeles's latest local news on crime, entertainment, weather, schools, COVID, cost of living and more. Here's your go-to source for today's LA news.
In the third quarter, the Lakers took hold of the contest by outscoring the Clippers 36-28. James, in particular, was seemingly unstoppable in the second half.
"I think [LeBron] was unbelievable," said Lakers' head coach Frank Vogel of his superstar. "It was his best weekend in a Lakers uniform. In my mind, this was his best two-game stretch of the season. He really dominated both games and helped close them out."
After receiving "MVP" chants numerous times at the foul line throughout the day, the Lakers' superstar and leader exited the Clippers' court to loud applause with 31.4 seconds remaining in the game. On the day, James tabbed 28 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and two blocks in 35 minutes of dominating work. It was yet another performance worthy of "MVP" chants.
"It's a very unique experience," said James' of the pro-Lakers crowd even though it was a Clippers' home game. "One thing about Laker faithful is that they come out no matter where we are. If we're here in Staples or in other arenas around America. They have been with us all year and that's a blessing to have."
Davis added 28 points and eight rebounds on the day, spectacularly playing Robin to James' Batman. Avery Bradley also had a phenomenal game on both ends of the floor, scoring 24 points and grabbing two steals as the only other Laker in double figures.
"Guys are showing a lot of confidence, making shots, and taking the challenge defensively," said Davis about the Lakers' supporting cast.
The Clippers' duo of Leonard and George did not exactly toss up stinkers, which is what made Sunday's win even more impressive. George finished the day with 31 points on only 16 field goal attempts, while Leonard scored 27 points on 50% shooting from the field.
"We just didn't really play with too much pace this afternoon," said Leonard after the loss. "We kind of came in the game on our heels a little bit even though it really didn't feel like we had a good rhythm out there. I think that pretty much carried over into the second half."
As was the case on Friday, however, James proved to be too relentless and unstoppable Sunday, along with the Lakers' defense raising its intensity and getting stops. The combination was crippling for the Clippers, just as it had been for the Bucks.
Even at age 35, James continued to show that he's not ready to relinquish being the best player on the planet. He wasn't interested in passing the torch to Giannis Antetokounmpo on Friday, and he seemed just as disinterested in giving it up to Leonard on Sunday.
"That's for you guys to talk about," James said about performing at this level at this late stage in his career. "I know what it takes for me to be prepared mentally and physically to perform at a high level, and it's my responsibility to put this team in a position to be successful. It's just a blessing to be doing what I'm doing even at this stage in my career."
After the Lakers beat the no. 1 team in the NBA and the no. 2 team in the Western Conference in back-to-back games, "King" James can securely wear his crown, and the Lakers are showing why they're the team to beat entering the postseason.
After two elite wins in front of national audiences and with only about a month remaining in the season, James seems more likely than ever to be crowned MVP, which would make him the first Laker to receive the honor since Kobe Bryant in 2008.