It would have been a Christmas Day miracle if the left-for-dead Lakers could have pulled off a fourth-quarter comeback against the Clippers at the Staples Center on Friday. But not even Santa could deliver that gift, with the Clippers limping to a 94-84 win over the other Los Angeles team.
The Lakers opened the fourth quarter on a 25-4 run to pull within seven points of the Clippers, even though the Clippers had controlled the game from the tip. Facing the Clippers' second unit, the Lakers youngsters found a rhythm and just kept at it, forcing Doc Rivers' hand and making him reinsert the starters with just a few minutes to go. But the lead never got smaller than seven and the Clippers pulled it out, despite the scare.
The biggest storyline was, of course, Kobe Bryant, who was playing his final Christmas Day game. He didn't score until the second quarter but caught fire for a few triples, finishing with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Bryant has appeared in 16 different Christmas Day games in his career, and while those games usually featured more prominently than Friday's nightcap, it was a fitting farewell to a player closing a truly special career.
Unfortunately, by the time the Lakers' miraculous comeback developed, Bryant was done for the night, already in his warmups and relegated to only supporting from the bench. While seeing him come off the bench as cavalry in an attempt to win in improbable fashion would have been magical, it simply wasn't going to happen.
We'll miss Christmas Kobe. Maybe not this Christmas Kobe, though.
At times, the Kobe Bryant retirement tour this season has been a struggle as we try to appreciate the moments that made his career legendary while glossing over his struggles. After all, Bryant is still shooting 34 percent from the field and 25 percent behind the line on a team that's now 5-25. But even while we have to endure those unfortunate things now, they clearly don't affect Bryant's legacy. There's nothing but respect around the NBA for one of the greatest to ever do it.
D'Angelo Russell is giving the Lakers hope
Even as the Lakers struggle this season, Russell keeps giving Lakers fans reasons to have hope. He was right in the middle of the fourth-quarter comeback, coming off the bench to play 28 minutes while scoring a team-high 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He's been jerked around in disappointing fashion by coach Byron Scott and most people really don't understand why he's coming off the bench these days, but it was good to see him lead the charge and hopefully prove himself (again) as a rookie with a bright, bright future.
This Clippers bench, man
There was nothing but good things to say about the better Los Angeles team through three quarters. They ran out to a 30-point lead and it didn't even look like they were trying that hard. They took care of business against a team that isn't good. It's always nice to get a win against the team you share the city with, anyway.
But oh, come on, the bench comes in during the beginning of the fourth and can't close the deal? How disappointing. Cole Aldrich and Paul Pierce were the primary culprits, notching a minus-13 and minus-11, respectively. All of Pierce's looks were makeable ones, but he only managed a 1-of-6 shooting line and finally had to get yanked along with the rest of the second unit in favor of the starters, who eventually put the game away in a much more difficult finish than it needed to be. Year after year, we talk about the Clippers finally figuring out their bench problems. Looks like they're still not there.