One by one, Montrezl Harrell wrapped the thick gold chains around his neck, the sparkling pendants falling carefully against his chest. It’s a daily routine in the Clippers locker room — the sparkling Visa credit card, the state of North Carolina, the basketball player dribbling all being put on right before Harrell gives an interview.
It happens after 30-point games and after 10-point ones. It happens after wins. It happens after losses. After Charlotte. After Boston. After Phoenix and after Milwaukee. Either way, it’s just one step in the process, no different one day from the next.
And after Sunday, that was the point the Clippers tried to make.
“It’s a basketball game, man. Somebody had to win; somebody had to lose,” Harrell said, the dull words contrasted against the sharp accessories. “They won the game. There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s up to y’all to hype up the game more than what it is. At the end of the day, it’s a basketball game. Somebody gotta win, somebody gotta lose.
“And today we happen to be that team to lose. Simple as that.”
Sunday the Clippers lost to the Lakers not because someone had to win and someone had to lose. No, they lost 112-103 because too many open shots clanked off the rim, because too many of the Clippers supporting cast didn’t get going, because too many of the Clippers’ weaknesses couldn’t be overcome and, just maybe, because they viewed Sunday’s game as just a “basketball game.”
After initial thrust at the game’s takeoff, the Clippers’ engine didn’t burn as hot or as efficient as the Lakers, helping their rival dictate the terms of the team’s third meeting.
“They were the more physical team tonight. I thought they were into their game plan more tonight. I thought they trusted each other more offensively today,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It is a good lesson for us. In the fourth I looked up and I think it was a four-point, five-point game, I felt we should have been down 15.”
The reason the Clippers were in the game are the reasons they will almost always certainly be in big games — their top-line stars making big plays. Paul George opened the game with an aggressiveness that the Clippers haven’t seen since they acquired him.
“I just wasn’t gonna settle tonight,” George said. “Just wanted to keep the pressure on and I found a crack early and I just saw a window where I could continue to keep attacking.”
The Lakers-Clippers rivalry, for years an afterthought, heats up as both teams eye an NBA title.
He scored 31 — his biggest offensive output since he scored 32 on Jan. 5. Kawhi Leonard, who was relatively bottled up by LeBron James, scored 27 and Harrell had 20. The three players, despite Leonard missing seven threes, hit on almost 57% from the field.
But that was essentially it. No other Clipper made more than three shots, the rest of the team combining to hit only 9-of-42 (21.4 percent).
Lou Williams, who like Harrell downplayed the importance of the game and wrote it off as media hype, was just 3-for- 11.
“Tonight was one of those nights where we were just off,” Williams coolly said.
Marcus Morris, who the Clippers acquired largely because of his shooting, continued to struggle by missing all nine of his attempts. He took the loss a little harder.
“I’m here to help win. I need to be better regardless of what my role is. I’m a veteran, a pro. I just need to be better,” Morris said. “I didn’t feel like I impacted this game to the best of my abilities, even without scoring, just doing other things.”
Outsiders viewed Sunday’s game as more important to the Lakers than the Clippers — the Clippers had already beaten their co-tenants twice. And after the game, Patrick Beverley admitted as much.
“We gotta give them a lot of credit. They came in trying to win a basketball game today. They took it personal,” Beverley said.
And that’s no longer the Clippers’ style, all of these games apparently equal steps to the ones that truly matter, the ones that begin with championship hardware at stake. The Clippers made it seem like Sunday’s loss doesn’t weigh any different than their recent wins against Denver and Houston or their previous two against the Lakers.
“Somebody has to win; somebody has to lose,” Harrell repeated. “Whoever carries out their game plan of what they want to do, what they want to take away from the other team, obviously, the majority of the time is going to win the game. And that’s what happened today.”
The Clippers know that eventually, though, they’ll likely have to play emotionally charged basketball against the Lakers with everything at stake. And when that happens, they said, they’ll be ready.
“It’s what you want,” George said. “You want to play the best, you want to compete against the best. Good thing about it is we’re both here.”