Kobe, Shaq … and Patrick Beverley? Top moments of the Lakers-Clippers rivalry

NBA

Los Angeles Lakers vs. LA Clippers might not be the NBA’s most storied rivalry, but there is always buzz whenever these two teams meet in downtown L.A.

That’s partly due to the teams having shared a home arena since the 1999-2000 season. Whether you call it Crypto.com Arena or still simply refer to it as “Staples,” the NBA’s only two-team arena has produced plenty of memorable moments over the past quarter-century.

It was in this era that Lakers legends Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal delivered three straight NBA Finals, with Bryant then winning two more rings in the purple and gold. LeBron James and Anthony Davis added their names to Lakers lore with the 2020 title.

Once one of the league’s worst franchises, the Clippers finally became relevant on the national scene during the Lob City era and the current Kawhi Leonard/Paul George-led team.

This summer, the Clippers will move into the Intuit Dome, their new $2 billion arena in Inglewood, marking Wednesday’s game as the final regular-season clash between the L.A. teams as co-tenants.

The Clips will be the designated home team, and despite their best attempts to create a home-game vibe in these games, expect a majority of Lakers fans in the stands. With the Lakers boasting 17 NBA Finals banners and 14 retired jerseys in the rafters (and an array of statues outside of the arena now including one of Bryant), the atmosphere of these games has seemed one-sided.

Ahead of Wednesday’s clash, ESPN’s NBA insiders look back at their favorite Battle of L.A. moments before the Clippers move to their new digs this offseason.


March 6, 2000: Shaq’s birthday gift is 61 points on the Clippers

You don’t want to make the Big Aristotle angry, especially on his birthday.

Shaquille O’Neal was in the midst of a dominant season for the Lakers, and the Clippers didn’t do themselves any favors during the arena’s first season by hassling him over his ticket request for family and friends on his 28th birthday.

O’Neal poured in a career-high 61 points with 23 rebounds — still the most points by a player on his birthday in NBA history — en route to a blowout victory by the Lakers.

Legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn saw it unfolding early as the hapless Clippers used multiple players to contain O’Neal. With Clippers big man Pete Chilcutt trying to guard O’Neal, the Hall of Fame broadcaster quipped, “As long as they have Chilcutt guarding him, he could go for a thousand [points].”

Chilcutt fouled out in less than 20 minutes, while Michael Olowokandi, Maurice Taylor and Lamar Odom each finished with five fouls.

O’Neal ended the game with 16 straight points in the fourth quarter and eclipsed his previous career high of 54 points. Two months later, Shaq went on to win his only regular-season MVP award and the first of his four NBA championships.

Jorge Sedano


Nov. 17, 2004: Kobe spurns the Clippers in free agency, then dominates them on the court

Bryant’s dalliance with the Clippers in 2004 is one of the great NBA “sliding doors” stories. Because for a few days in the summer of 2004, it really seemed as if the Lakers great, who’d one day have a statue outside of Crypto.com Arena and two Lakers jerseys hanging from the rafters, was going to switch sides and join what was, for all intents and purposes, the better, more talented team during a whirlwind free agency period.

As former Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler recalled to the Los Angeles Times in 2019, “This is an exact quote that I’ve had repeated to me by multiple people: [Bryant] said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m a Clipper.’ So he walked out the door and [the Clippers] are all high-fiving each other thinking, ‘By God, we’ve done it.'”

There are various accounts of what changed Bryant’s mind. Jerry West said he placed calls to Bryant, insisting that he stay a Laker and not play for the Clippers’ former owner Donald Sterling. Bryant said conversations with former Lakers owner Jerry Buss helped turn him around.

Whatever the case, the first meeting between Bryant and the Clippers after his free agency — a Nov. 17, 2004, Clippers home game — came with a heavy dose of awkwardness for those who knew how close he really was to joining Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Kerry Kittles.

Both sides had something to prove, and, as usual, Bryant came out on top, finishing with 23 points, six rebounds and a season-high 11 assists in a lopsided Lakers win.

“For me, it’s old hat,” Bryant said after the Lakers beat the Clippers for the 27th time in 30 games.

“We knew they wanted to come out and get us,” Lakers big man Brian Cook said after the win. “We’ve got a big target on our back. We came out and showed them what’s up.”

– Ramona Shelburne


Jan. 4, 2013: Kobe puts the Point God on a poster

Entering the 2012-2013 season, the longstanding balance of basketball power in Los Angeles was starting to shift. The Clippers, coming off the franchise’s fifth postseason appearance since relocating from San Diego in 1984, had the game’s premier point guard, Chris Paul, and a pair of springy big men in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to finish above the rim.

The Lakers, just a few years removed from titles in 2009 and 2010, were a team in flux. Legendary coach Phil Jackson retired. His replacement, Mike Brown, was fired 71 games into his tenure. Mike D’Antoni was brought in to maximize the aging Bryant and Pau Gasol alongside the injured Steve Nash (nerve damage in his knee) and Dwight Howard (torn labrum in his shoulder, on top of recovering from back surgery to repair a herniated disk).

It was with that backdrop that, on Jan. 4, 2013, the Lakers faced a Clips team with the second-best record in the league at 25-8. But midway through the first quarter, Bryant made it clear he wasn’t relinquishing his perch atop the L.A. pecking order without a fight.

With Paul running pick-and-roll with Odom near the top of the key, Bryant sagged in the lane until Paul tried to find Willie Green on the right wing. The 34-year-old Lakers legend showed he still had something in the tank.

Bryant jumped the passing lane, swiping the pass, and needed just two dribbles to get from the 3-point line all the way past half court and into the lane on the other end, where he soared for a commanding one-handed dunk over a contesting Paul.

As impressive as the slam was in real time, causing the arena to erupt in applause even though it was a Clippers home game, the photo — captured by Gary A. Vasquez for USA Today Sports — made the dunk worthy of being displayed in a museum.

Bryant is in full flight with his eyes laser focused on the rim and his mouth agape with a hint of a Michael Jordan tongue wag appearing, while Paul has his eyes closed and looks pained as their bodies collide in midair — albeit with Paul’s body a couple of feet below Bryant’s.

It ended up being a classic battle between Bryant, who would tear his Achilles tendon in April that year, and the Lob City Clippers. The Clippers prevailed 107-102, surviving Bryant scoring 16 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter to bring the Lakers within two points before Paul scored the Clips’ final eight points in the last 1:07 to seal it.

Later that night, after the game, Paul took to Twitter, where he didn’t relish in the win but shared that his son asked to see the clip of Bryant dunking on his dad.

Dave McMenamin


Dec. 25, 2019: Beverley blocks LeBron to give Ballmer a holiday gift

One of the most hyped Christmas Day games in recent memory was the second Battle of L.A. meeting between James and Leonard.

And it ended with James having to watch Patrick Beverley celebrate a game-winning stop at his expense.

On Dec. 25, 2019, all eyes were on both teams as they entered the season as title contenders. James and Davis were in their first season together with the Lakers, and the Clippers were in their first season of the Leonard-George era.

The Clippers won the first meeting on opening night when Leonard introduced himself to the hallway rivalry by hitting seven straight shots at one point and scoring 30 points in a 112-102 win on Oct. 22.

The rematch was one of the hottest tickets of the season. The Lakers looked poised to run away with the second meeting when they went up by 15 in the third quarter and led by seven with just under seven minutes remaining in the fourth.

But Leonard scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, and Beverley delivered one of the rivalry’s best defensive plays.

With the Lakers trailing 109-106, James went to shoot a potential overtime-forcing 3. But Beverley, blanketed on the Lakers star, got his hand on the ball and blocked the shot with the ball going off James’ fingertips and out of bounds. Beverley shouted words toward the Lakers’ home crowd.

After replay confirmed the ball was off James and it was Clippers ball, George sank two free throws and the Clippers pulled off the come-from-behind Christmas win. Beverley was congratulated by high-fiving Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who was seated courtside.

It wasn’t the first time Beverley ran his mouth after beating the Lakers. In the highly anticipated 2017-18 season opener, Beverley helped the Clippers hold Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, to 3 points, 4 assists and 9 rebounds in his NBA debut.

Afterward, the Clippers point guard could be heard screaming as he walked off the court: “Weak ass motherf—er. Bring him out on the court with me and I will tear his ass up.”

That prompted Ball’s father, LaVar, to respond by saying, “And your check still ain’t going to go no higher than what it is. … Who is Patrick Beverley?”

By Christmas 2019, Lonzo was with the New Orleans Pelicans. And Beverley himself would leave the Clippers in 2021. But his status as one of the rivalry’s best trash-talkers was safely secured.

– Ohm Youngmisuk


The battle of L.A. goes to … the Clippers?

When the Clippers and Lakers first moved into the then-Staples Center in 1999, there was no question who was the big brother.

The Lakers were en route to the first of three consecutive titles, while the Clippers were coming off a 9-41 finish and in the thick of an eight-season playoff drought. Some 25 years later, while the Lakers remain the top dogs in Los Angeles, the relationship on the court has reversed.

Over the first 13 seasons the teams played together, the Lakers went 38-13 (.745) in what were essentially four additional home games per year. Then Chris Paul arrived and changed everything for the Clippers, while the Lakers have suffered through a relative fallow period (albeit one that still included a championship in 2019-20).

Since 2012-13, the Clippers have won 82% of the head-to-head matchups at Crypto.com Arena (37-8), a better record than any other NBA team has against a conference rival over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. (The Lakers did win the one neutral-site game between the two teams in the NBA’s Orlando, Florida, conclusion to the 2019-20 regular season.) As a result, no matter what happens Wednesday night, the Clippers will win the Hallway Series during the regular season.

Remarkably, despite the Clippers and Lakers both making the playoffs in three of the past four years and six times overall as co-tenants, we’ve yet to see a postseason matchup between them. The Lakers fell a game short of a 2006 matchup in the second round, losing Game 7 to the Phoenix Suns, while the Clippers spoiled a meeting in the Orlando bubble when they dropped a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals.

But, there is hope of a long-awaited hallway (playoff) series this season inside Crypto.com Arena. With the Clippers in the hunt for the top seed in the Western Conference and the Lakers currently in the play-in tournament, projections using ESPN’s Basketball Power Index show a playoff meeting in 12% of simulations.

There is an outside chance this might not be the final Clippers-Lakers matchup with both teams using their home locker rooms after all.

– Kevin Pelton

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