Basketball

Kawhi Leonard gives Clippers edge over Lakers in Battle of LA

He scores 35 points in the Battle of Los Angeles tie that had 15 lead changes

Kawhi Leonard scored 35 points as the Clippers rallied to beat the Lakers 111-106 in an all-Los Angeles NBA showdown yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The Western Conference heavyweight clash was part of the NBA's five-game Christmas extravaganza, which also saw the Philadelphia 76ers make a statement with a 121-109 victory over the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks.

It was a back-and-forth battle in Los Angeles, where the Clippers and Lakers battled through 15 lead changes.

With superstar LeBron James off to a slow start offensively, the Lakers still managed to take control with a 17-2 scoring run to close the first half with a 63-51 lead. The Lakers led by as many as 15 in the third quarter before the Clippers battled back to 86-86 going into the fourth.

Three-pointers from James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope helped push the Lakers to a 101-94 lead, but the Clippers levelled again and led for good with 3:29 remaining on their way to a second victory this season over the Lakers.

Leonard scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and Patrick Beverley produced a key block of James' potential game-tying three-pointer with 3.6sec left.

"I just tried to make a play on a really great player," Beverley said after he swatted the ball and it went out of bounds - somehow off the hands of James.

"I was fortunate to make a defensive play."

Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with 25 points, followed by Anthony Davis with 24, while James finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists in their fourth straight defeat.

Cameroonian big man Joel Embiid scored 31 points as the Sixers ran riot over the league's top-rated defence.

Embiid pulled down 11 rebounds and played a key role in neutralising NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was held to 18 points on eight-of-23 shooting.

"The whole season I've been humble. But I want to be Defensive Player of the Year and I feel like tonight showed it," he said.

The 76ers led by as many as 29 points as they handed the Bucks just their fifth defeat of the season.

ADVERSITY

"We had to go through this today," Antetokounmpo said.

"We had to have our character tested today because the only way you get better is when you face adversity."

A Christmas win was a welcome boost for the struggling Golden State Warriors, who shocked the Houston Rockets 116-104 in San Francisco.

"This game meant a lot to us, and you can see it in the way our players approached it," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

While the Warriors have reached the last five NBA Finals, they've struggled with injuries to stars Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, and were underdogs against the Rockets featuring former MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Draymond Green scored 20 points and Damion Lee added 22, as the Warriors rallied to win their third straight for just their seventh victory of the season.

Westbrook had 30 points and 12 rebounds for Houston. Harden, averaging 38.6 points per game, had just 24 in the face of the Warriors' determined, disciplined defence.

There was another upset in Denver, where the lowly New Orleans Pelicans toppled the Nuggets 112-100.

Brandon Ingram scored 31 points for the Pelicans - who are second-from last in the West - and New Orleans snapped the second-placed Nuggets' seven-game winning streak.

In Toronto, Jaylen Brown scored 30 points to lead the Boston Celtics to a 118-102 win over champions Raptors in the first Christmas Day game in Canada. - AFP

"The whole season I've been humble. But I want to be Defensive Player of the Year and I feel like tonight showed it."

- The 76ers ' Joel Embiid, who helped restrict Milwaukee's NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to 18 points

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