LOS ANGELES — LeBron James hit a 26-foot 3-pointer – his ninth – that cut the Clippers’ lead to 10 points midway through the fourth quarter and Coach Tyronn Lue immediately called a timeout.
Through the chatter in the huddle, Lue made his point clear. If the Clippers were going to pull out a victory on Tuesday night, they needed their two stars to make it happen.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George took the challenge and combined for nine points in two minutes before exiting the game with the lead safely back to 20 points. The rest of the team held it together in the final minutes for a 133-115 victory over the Lakers at Crypto.com Arena.
“When we came to the huddle, we said that we were still up 10 points and you know this team isn’t going to quit,” Leonard said. “We wanted to come out (of that timeout) and still push the pace and get those stops.
“It was a team effort and hopefully we got some carryover (to the next game).”
It required an entire team effort to secure a 10th consecutive victory against the Lakers (22-26), not to mention a few key defensive stops in the final quarter to overcome James’ game-high 46 points on 16-of-29 shooting from the field. James now has scored 40-plus points against all 30 teams in the league, the Clippers (26-24) finally joining the list.
“We just stayed in the game,” said Leonard, who had 25 points and nine rebounds. “He’s a hell of a player. He’s going to make runs like that or play games like this. So, we just sustained it and kept even-keeled, kept our heads level, and just kept moving.”
The Clippers got off to a fast start, hitting 15 of their 19 3-pointers in the first half for a 77-54 lead. Then, as it has happened so many times this season, they hit a lull in the third quarter to give the Lakers an opening. James scored 13 points in the quarter and Thomas Bryant scored five of his 15 points, but the Clippers hung in.
“He had it going,” Lue said of James. “I just thought that we did a good job of just being up 20, 17, whatever and then he made some 3’s, and we adjusted.
“When they cut it to 10, we adjusted our coverage. … You know, he had a great shooting night. We just tried to take everybody else out and let Bron go one-on-one and he beat us tonight by scoring the basketball. We were able to come out with the win, so that was the most important thing.
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“But he played great, making nine 3s, so what do you expect from Bron?”
The Clippers, who have won three in a row, are hoping this type of leadership from Leonard and George continues in the final 32 games of the regular season. George finished with a team-high 27 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Norman Powell added 22 points and Reggie Jackson had 19 as the Clippers shot 60.7% (51 for 84) from the field and 50% (19 for 38) from behind the arc.
“We just need to continue to keep building up what we’ve been talking about all season long and we’re finally getting healthy,” Lue said. “Then we lose Marcus of course.”
Forward Marcus Morris Sr. suffered a rib contusion in the first quarter and did not return.
“But you know, I like where we’re at. I like what we’re doing. I like the spirit of our team and we just have to continue to just keep working and putting the work in and getting better.”