May 26, 2024

D’Angelo Russell, his voice as level as the top of a NBA backboard, made sure to point out the thing that he was about to say needed to be bolded and underlined.

“‘I’m going to continue to stress it,” he said. “But what you guys see is a team figuring it out.”

Russell sat in front of the media and said this Monday night, his Lakers having just grinded through a win against the Orlando Magic.

By midway through the first quarter Wednesday, that journey seemed a long ways from coming to an end.

A 12th straight loss to their neighbors, the Clippers, seemed certain, and it almost assuredly was going to be lopsided and ugly.

Then, thanks to an effort led by the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, it wasn’t.

LeBron James, who hadn’t beaten the Clippers since the bubble in 2020, scored 35 points in 42 minutes, helping the Lakers win 130-125 in overtime.

Kawhi Leonard scored 38, Paul George had 35 and Russell Westbrook had 24 for the Clippers.

Anthony Davis and Russell scored 27 each for the Lakers, and Austin Reaves, who had been stuck in an early slump, scored seven of the Lakers’ 13 overtime points, capping things with an over-the-shoulder lob to James for a dunk.

Clippers' Russell Westbrook beats Lakers' Anthony Davis to score a basket.

Clippers’ Russell Westbrook beats Lakers’ Anthony Davis to score a basket in the first quarter at Arena.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Leonard, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, hit his first five shots during an 18-point first quarter. The Clippers built a double-digit lead that grew to 19 before back-to-back Lakers threes right at the end of the quarter kept things from being wildly out of hand.

From there, the Lakers sort of just hung around, never really threatening but never fading either.

Already short-handed without Rui Hachimura (concussion protocol), Jared Vanderbilt (heel) and Gabe Vincent (knee), the Lakers lost Taurean Prince during pregame warmups when he felt soreness in his left knee.

The Lakers thrust Cam Reddish into the starting lineup. Later, they were forced to play Davis alongside backup centers Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood. And the creativity all paid off.

With the three bigs on the floor, the Lakers flipped the game in the third quarter, erasing that double-git deficit to lead for the first time since Reddish opened the scoring with a layup.

Along the way the Lakers got contributions across the board, from Reddish’s on-ball defense to timely buckets from Reaves and energy from Hayes, Wood and Max Christie off the bench.

The Lakers led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before the Clippers clawed back thanks to big buckets from Leonard, George and Westbrook.

George hit three free throws to tie the game with 17 seconds left after getting fouled by Reddish, with overtime coming after Russell’s potential winner came up short.

But less than a minute into extra time, George fouled out and the Lakers got enough to pull out the comeback, sealing the game with a thunderous putback dunk from Wood in the final seconds.

It took time, like Russell said earlier in the week, the Lakers figuring it out in front of everyone’s eyes.

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