Every time the Lakers pushed, the Clippers pushed back more.
Baron Davis, with 22 points, nine assists, and a visible zilch in his tank, began the fourth quarter on the bench, watching his Clippers defend a six point lead. The point was manned in his place by journeyman Sebastian Telfair, who'd made a few nice passes during the first half but was also nursing an 0-4 line for a goose egg in the scoring column. Eric Gordon, paired with Bassy in the back court, had notched a quiet 11 points. From there, you had Ricky Davis (whose time in the rotation fluctuates like the Dow) and Craig Smith (who hasn't scored 20 points all season) to complement Chris Kaman. If the Lakers were going to push out in front, this is where I figured it would happen. And ever so briefly, that's what appeared in the works. The Clippers missed all four shots attempted and Ron Artest eventually drained a step back jumper with 9:53 remaining, knotting the action at 79 apiece.
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy called timeout, and I was sure a substitution was coming. And I was right... except we're talking DeAndre Jordan for Kaman.
Dunleavy kept his star point guard on the pine nearly three more minutes as momentum appeared to be shifting the purple and gold's way, a decision I felt would drag his team under. On the contrary, the Lakers never pounced and Baron reentered the game with seven minutes to go and a one point lead soon quadrupled, rather indicative of a theme established throughout entire evening: Opportunities missed.
Yes, the Clippers led by 15 at one point in the third quarter and the Lakers never owned an advantage beyond a deuce. Yes, Kaman outplayed Andrew Bynum (albeit slightly). Yes, Lamar Odom's shooting touch (3-11) abandoned him on the heels of an unstoppable performance despite the flu. Yes, the bench was largely a non-factor outside Shannon Brown's 15 points. Yes, Kobe Bryant struggled mightily throughout, requiring 30 shots (20 missed) to accumulate 33 points. But bottom line, there were also ten ties over 48 minutes. In other words, even while often at their most ineffective (38.4 percent from the floor), the Lakers had plenty of chances, but never carpe'd their diem.
And, giving credit where credit is due, were never allowed to do so.