After he poked the ball out of LeBron James’ hand, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley stared down the courtside fans. Then he taunted them.
The play became symbolically rich. The Clippers held on for a 111-106 win over the Lakers on Christmas Day in a designated road game at Staples Center after Beverley denied James the chance to tie the game and force overtime. It gave the Clippers (23-10) bragging rights over the Lakers (24-7) after collecting two early regular-season wins. And although Beverley did not issue much trash talk afterwards, the Clippers made a compelling enough case that they could seriously challenge the Lakers in the playoffs.
But leave it to Clippers star Paul George to properly assess what this game actually meant in the big picture:
“Nothing,” George said. “Nothing.”
Yes, the Lakers and Clippers offered everything you could ever want in a nationally televised Christmas Day game. The outcome did not become official until the final minute. Their star players had varying degrees of success. So did their bench players. This game surely added some regular-season spice to help the network ratings.
The game did not offer a definitive answer, though, on how things would play out in the postseason.
One of many reasons why: A controversial overturn on Beverley’s strip of James. It seemed clear that Beverley punched the ball out when he deflected James’ 3-point attempt as the Lakers’ trailed, 109-106, with 3.6 seconds left. But on review the Clippers were awarded the ball as slow-motion replay showed it grazing off James’ fingertips last.
In a game that featured 16 lead changes and 10 ties, the Lakers had plenty of time to force overtime. Then the reversal happened.
“If you look at a slow motion four or five or 10 times, you can decide it is a different call,” James said. “But in a live game, if he strips the ball, it’s just weird to me. That wasn’t the game right there. It’s a big play. You want to get it right. But that’s not what lost us.”