Lakers vs. Clippers score: LeBron James, Anthony Davis get help from supporting cast in statement win

The Lakers beat the Clippers for the first time this meeting on Sunday afternoon

The Los Angeles Lakers no longer have a monkey on their back. After losing their first two matchups with the Los Angeles Clippers, they came into Sunday's battle knowing that a loss would lead to more whispers about their playoff viability. Falling to 0-3 against your biggest rival is borderline disastrous, and the Lakers played like it in a 112-103 win.

It was a close game, and the Clippers led at halftime. But ultimately, the pairing of LeBron James and Anthony Davis was just too strong. The superstar duo combined for 58 points in the victory, but it was their defense that truly stood out. They led the Lakers in holding the Clippers to only 39.5 percent shooting from the field. For the second consecutive game, the Lakers -- who beat the Bucks on Friday -- largely managed to shut down one of the best teams in the NBA.

The difference for the Lakers wasn't the superstars, though. After all, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard gave the Clippers an identical 58 points. It was the role players that pushed the Lakers over the top. Avery Bradley scored a season-high 24 points in making half of his 12 3-point attempts. His defense, along with that of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris and even Kyle Kuzma proved essential. 

Now the Lakers can enter the playoffs without any regular-season narratives weighing them down. They've beaten everybody that they need to beat. They've proven everything that they need to prove. And while there's still a long way to go if they hope to win the championship, they can at least pursue that goal without any baggage. This season isn't about their rivalry with the Clippers or LeBron's battle for the MVP with Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is simply about holding that trophy at the end, the last thing left for this Lakers team to achieve. 

With that in mind, here are the biggest takeaways from today's enormous Lakers win. 

No, Kawhi is not LeBron's kryptonite

Kawhi Leonard might be the best defensive player in the NBA. In the first two rounds between these teams, he was so good that he managed to make LeBron James look mortal. He averaged only a paltry 20.5 points on 37 percent shooting in their first two battles this season, leading many to conclude that James' athletic gifts had declined to the point that he could no longer score against such a strong defender. 

Sunday should have resolved those fears. LeBron attacked the basket with reckless abandon, and while his 30 points were impressive, the far more important figure was his 14 free-throw attempts. For the season, he is averaging a career-low 5.6 per game, but when he needed to draw contact and get to the line for easy points today, he managed to do so. The Clippers' lack of rim-protection played a big part in that, but with the trade deadline past, the onus now falls entirely on Kawhi. Either keep LeBron from the bucket altogether, or he's going to get to the line. 

Defense is going to win the day when these teams meet in the playoffs

While the third quarter inflated the numbers slightly, this was ultimately a game defined by defense. Neither team had a consistent method of generating good shots against the other's incredible defense, so whenever a potential liability stepped on the floor, they were tested. Kyle Kuzma passed the test. Montrezl Harrell mostly did as well. These are players that can get hunted in the right circumstances, but they more than held their own. 

A number of players didn't, though. Rajon Rondo got roasted in his 22 minutes. Landry Shamet only played eight because of his own shortcomings. The worst by far, though, was Lou Williams. The Clippers left him on the floor for offense down the stretch, and the result was the Lakers hunting him in pick-and-roll on almost every play down the stretch. He couldn't effectively switch onto James and was mostly useless as a hedge defender, failing to rotate back into place quickly enough. 

If these teams meet again in the spring, those kinds of defensive exit valves are going to be the key to finding good shots. Sunday proved an excellent litmus test for who can stay on the floor in this caliber of game and who cannot. When the rotations tighten, both teams will shift more and more minutes to the defenders that proved they could survive a two-superstar onslaught today. 

These teams are essentially even

The Lakers and Clippers have now played three times. They were tied after three quarters in the first two. The Lakers led by four after three today. The Clippers lost today's game by nine points. They also missed nine free throws. The Lakers lost the Christmas game by a literal fingernail thanks to instant replay. 

The message here is that betting on either side in a playoff series at this point would be foolish. When you factor in their shared arena and the lost home-court advantage that comes with it, these might be the two most evenly matched teams to ever meet up in a playoff series. Barring extreme shooting variance, most of their games are going to be close and come down to a few plays at the end. 

112
103
SUN 3:30 P
LAC -2.5, o226.5
ABC
LAC -2.5, O/U 226.5

Season Leaders

points
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A. Davis 26.7 PTS, 3.1 AST, 9.4 REB
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A. Davis 26.7 PTS, 3.1 AST, 9.4 REB
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K. Leonard 26.9 PTS, 5.0 AST, 7.3 REB
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K. Leonard 26.9 PTS, 5.0 AST, 7.3 REB
assists
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L. James 25.7 PTS, 10.6 AST, 7.9 REB
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L. James 25.7 PTS, 10.6 AST, 7.9 REB
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L. Williams 18.7 PTS, 5.7 AST, 3.1 REB
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L. Williams 18.7 PTS, 5.7 AST, 3.1 REB
rebounds
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A. Davis 26.7 PTS, 3.1 AST, 9.4 REB
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A. Davis 26.7 PTS, 3.1 AST, 9.4 REB
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K. Leonard 26.9 PTS, 5.0 AST, 7.3 REB
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K. Leonard 26.9 PTS, 5.0 AST, 7.3 REB
Live updates
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It's over

LeBron James puts a bow on it as the Lakers go up 12. They are winless against the Clippers no longer. 

March 8, 2020, 10:15 PM

He's making it easy

The Lakers are attacking Lou Williams in the pick-and-roll every time down the floor. He simply cannot defend effectively against the Lakers. 

March 8, 2020, 10:05 PM
@Lakers via Twitter
March 8, 2020, 9:59 PM

Still fighting

The Clippers are too talented to quit. The 12-point Lakers lead is now down to six at 101-95. 

March 8, 2020, 9:58 PM
@Lakers via Twitter
March 8, 2020, 9:51 PM

They'd need a miracle

The Lakers are now up 12 after a big three-point play from LeBron and a jumper from Anthony Davis. With under seven minutes remaining, the Lakers look to have this one in hand. 

March 8, 2020, 9:50 PM

Matchup nightmare

Montrezl Harrell has bullied smaller defenders whenever he's gotten the right matchup. He has 20 points on 11 free throw attempts. 

March 8, 2020, 9:47 PM

Pulling away

These two teams have traded blows all night, but that early stretch with Leonard and George on the bench really cost the Clippers. The Lakers have pushed the lead up to nine, and given their undefeated record in games they led after three quarters, things aren't looking great for the Clippers. 

March 8, 2020, 9:41 PM

Now's their chance

The Clippers decided not to stagger the Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, giving LeBron James an early stretch as the only superstar on the floor in the fourth quarter. He hit a quick 3-pointer to make them pay. This is a golden opportunity for the Lakers to finish this thing off. 

March 8, 2020, 9:37 PM
@Lakers via Twitter
March 8, 2020, 9:35 PM

Coming into his own

The fourth quarter against Milwaukee is up there as well, but that might have been Anthony Davis' best quarter as a Laker. His 11 points and incredible defense helped them turn a four-point deficit into a four-point lead. At the end of three, it's 85-81 in favor of the Lakers. 

March 8, 2020, 9:30 PM

Getting hot

The Lakers and Clippers made only four 3-pointers in the first half. They've combined for nine more in the third quarter, with Avery Bradley leading the way. 

March 8, 2020, 9:27 PM

Wow

Paul George is now up to 29 points and there's still more than a quarter to go. He's been the best player on the floor in a game with two Finals MVPs and a former No. 3 finisher for the regular-season award. 

March 8, 2020, 9:25 PM
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