Led by Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers came away victorious on Christmas night at Staples Center over the Los Angeles Lakers, 94-84.
The Lakers failed to match the Clippers' intensity early in the contest, as Paul made four of his first five shots and put the visiting Clippers up by 10 points at the end of the first quarter. In a moment that encapsulated the Lakers' season thus far, Lakers rookie Larry Nance batted the ball into his own basket.
The Clippers would build on the foundation set in the first quarter and stretch their lead to 16 points at halftime. At that stage, the Lakers appeared headed for yet another lopsided defeat without even a slightest whimper of a struggle.
In the third period, the Clippers stomped on the Lakers' necks and attempted to take the life out of the home team for the holidays. After three quarters, the Lakers trailed by 28 points, and a chilly Christmas breeze had entered the arena and spread across the crowd. On a national stage and with families watching from near and far, the Clippers were comprehensively beating and embarrassing the Lakers.
The game appeared over for intents and purposes, and both coaches went to their reserves. Only, the Lakers' reserves sparked a rally that would pump life into Staples Center and give the purple and gold contingent a reason to cheer--and cheer loudly.
The Lakers' bench started the fourth quarter with a 23-4 run to cut the game to only single digits. With about five minutes to play, the Lakers trailed by nine points. Predictably, the crowd began to chant for "Kobe! Kobe!" in the hopes that Kobe Bryant would come out and lead the Lakers to victory for one last Christmas.
However, this time around, Bryant would remain on the bench, though he did manage to stay involved and instruct rookie D'Angelo Russell during timeouts and in between free throws.
The Lakers would close to within seven points with 4:01 to play, but Clippers coach Doc Rivers had already brought back his starters at that stage. Former Laker Wesley Johnson would hit a heartbreaking three-pointer to push the Clippers back up to a 10-point lead, and Paul's jump shot a few moments later would effectively ice the game for the Clippers.
Paul would finish with 23 points, six assists and five rebounds. Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell, who proved to be instrumental in the late rally, tabbed a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds. Bryant finished with 12 points in 26 minutes, but he did not play any part in the fourth quarter, a decision that Lakers coach Byron Scott called "easy" due to the rally being spurred by the Lakers' second unit.
The Lakers fell to 5-25, while the Clippers improved to 17-13 on the season.
Notes: In Spanish, Bryant revealed that he was sad about experiencing his final NBA Christmas game, as the 20-year professional will call it quits at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season.