Moments before the final buzzer sounded on the Los Angeles Lakers’ latest extravaganza of hard fouls, trash-talk and outright wrestling matches with the Los Angeles Clippers, Pau Gasol might have topped it all when he patted Chris Paul on the head.
Anybody who still believes the Staples Center’s co-tenants don’t have a rivalry should get his own head checked.
The Lakers’ 96-91 victory Wednesday night is only going to heat up the simmering campaign for city supremacy.
Kobe Bryant scored 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, and Gasol had 23 points and 10 rebounds as the Lakers rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit for their first win this season in the cross-hallway rivalry. The game featured plenty of sharp play, including several moments of brilliance from Bryant and Blake Griffin, but also six technical fouls, plenty of extracurricular talk, and the ejection of the Lakers’ Josh McRoberts for scrapping with Reggie Evans.
That’s all before Gasol’s end-of-the-game gesture prompted a furious response from Paul, who had four points and 12 assists for the Clippers in his return from a five-game absence because of a strained left hamstring.
”He touched the top of my head, and I didn’t like that,” said Paul, who nearly landed with the Lakers last month before the NBA squelched the deal. ”You know what I mean. I don’t know if Pau’s got kids, but don’t touch my head like I’m one of your kids. I don’t know what his intentions were, like, `I’ll treat him like little Chris.’ I don’t know if he’s got kids, but I’m not one of them.”
Gasol, who has no kids, insisted he was misunderstood.
”I’m sorry he felt that way,” the Spanish 7-footer said. ”I do that all the time with my teammates. Nothing mean about it.”
When asked what Paul yelled at him after the game, Gasol called it ”just trash.”
Andrew Bynum scored 19 points as the Lakers snapped their three-game skid and finally answered the Clippers, who beat the Lakers twice in the preseason and again earlier this month, staking an early claim to L.A. superiority with their revamped lineup. The Lakers aren’t ready to cede the city just yet — in fact, they were willing to fight for it.
”Everybody played with the right attitude, and guys did what they do best,” Bryant said. ”They had the right temperament. Everybody did what we do best.”
Bryant put the Lakers in front with six points during an 11-4 run capped by Metta World Peace’s 3-pointer with 3:30 to play. The Lakers nursed the lead into the final minute, when Bynum made a layup and blocked DeAndre Jordan’s shot in the paint on consecutive possessions, essentially sealing the Lakers’ ninth straight ”home” victory in the rivalry.
Griffin had 26 points and nine rebounds, and Caron Butler and Mo Williams added 16 points apiece for the Clippers, who led for all but the opening basket of the first 3 1/2 quarters.
The testiness ratcheted up when Griffin and World Peace went down in a heap as they chased a loose ball at midcourt in the third quarter. Both teams surrounded the tangle of limbs and exchanged minor contact, but officials only ruled a jump ball.
”It was chippy out there because we both want to win and we both need to win,” Griffin said. ”I think they know what we’re going to bring every time and we know what they’re going to bring. So both teams are going to be ready, but we’re not sitting here trying to call it a rivalry or anything like that. It’s another game on our schedule.”
The Lakers have won 10 of their last 11 home games since Christmas, and the Clippers still haven’t beaten the Lakers twice in a row since the 2006-07 season. The Lakers still failed to score 100 points for the 12th straight game, matching their longest low-scoring stretch since early 2004.
Paul hadn’t played since the Clippers’ home victory over the Lakers 11 days ago, but his teammates stayed in first place in the Pacific Division during his absence.
”It felt great. That’s the only good thing I can take from this game, that my leg felt progress,” Paul said. ”It was so great to get back out on that court. I just wish I could have helped my team out more than I did.”
Griffin landed his nightly jaw-dropping dunk when he drove past Gasol on the perimeter and floated past Bynum for a double-clutch jam. Later, Griffin made a nimble reverse hook shot and a flying rebound putback dunk within a minute of each other.
The Lakers got unlikely offensive help from Andrew Goudelock, the rookie from College of Charleston who had scored just 10 points all season before matching that total midway through the second quarter against the Clippers. Goudelock hit two 3-pointers and didn’t miss a shot until the third quarter.
Bryant committed six turnovers in the third quarter as the Clippers maintained their lead, and Mo Williams added the tension with a flagrant foul on Goudelock during a fast break early in the fourth. The officials attempted to keep peace with technical fouls, including two quick ones to McRoberts, who was ejected with 9:35 to play after two exchanges with Evans.
Chauncey Billups committed a technical foul during the Lakers’ run to an 87-82 lead on World Peace’s sixth 3-pointer in 38 tries during his dismal offensive season.
NOTES: Before the game, the Lakers sent second-year forward Derrick Caracter to Bakersfield of the D-League as he continues his rehabilitation from a torn meniscus in his left knee. … Fans near courtside included David Beckham, Aziz Ansari, Jerry Bruckheimer, Mark McGrath and director McG.