LOS ANGELES – The occasion was undeniably historic, but the Clippers didn’t pause even a moment to celebrate. They could have put on T-shirts commemorating the first Pacific Division title in franchise history, but no one did.
Instead, they talked about bigger goals. And while they did that, the Lakers sank just a bit deeper into a hole, suddenly dropping into the ninth spot — and out of the playoffs — after the Utah Jazz beat the Golden State Warriors.
They are two teams going their separate ways – the Clippers are looking toward the postseason, the Lakers are still uncertain whether they’ll even get there.
A 109-95 victory over the Lakers on Sunday at Staples Center gave the Clippers their first four-game season sweep of the Lakers since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1984-85. In fact, the Clips hadn’t swept the Lakers since they were originally the Buffalo Braves in 1974-75.
The Pacific Division title was also a franchise first, but the Clippers balked at any type of postgame celebration. There’s plenty of time for that.
“It means a lot,” Chris Paul said. “It means we’re headed in the right direction. But there was no cake, no champagne popping or anything like that in the locker room, and I think that says even more about our team – that we’re not satisfied.
“We understand that this is something small compared to the big picture. We want to continue to work hard and keep trying to play the right way going into the playoffs.”
Whether the Lakers join them is a big unknown. The defeat dropped them to 40-37, momentarily tied for eighth place until the Jazz defeated the Warriors 97-90. Now the Lakers trail Utah for the final playoff berth in the conference by a half game. The Lakers face the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night at Staples in what becomes a must-win game.
“I really believe we’re as good as anybody on a given night,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If we can keep our energy all the way through … we’re playing guys on fumes a little bit right now, but we’re going to get some guys back pretty soon so we’ll have a longer rotation in the playoffs.
“I think we’re going to be dangerous.”
Dangerous, but also very weary. Kobe Bryant played all but the final 39 seconds of the fourth quarter, scoring 25 points but also missing 13 of 19 shots. Forward Pau Gasol (12 points, 13 rebounds) played 39 minutes, guard Steve Blake 39½ minutes and Dwight Howard 38½ minutes. Howard had 25 points and four blocked shots.
But after leading by six points midway through the first quarter, the Lakers went into fade mode and never recovered. The Clippers closed out the opening period with a 14-4 run, scored the last seven points of the first half, then went on a 6-0 run to start the third quarter.
A 3-pointer by Caron Butler with 7:43 left in the third made it 69-55. Butler leaped off his feet, threw a fist in the air and ran back to the bench when the Lakers called a timeout.
“They made some pretty tough shots, and they had players come in and make some big baskets under duress,” Bryant said. “They kind of kept us at bay, and they would get some turnovers and get out in transition. At the start of the third quarter they got out to a nice cushion and we weren’t able to overcome that.”
There were other reasons. The Clippers crushed the Lakers on the boards 50-36 and held a 36-19 edge in bench scoring. D’Antoni used just two players off his bench, Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison. Guard Steve Nash sat out a third consecutive game with a strained right hamstring.
The Clippers’ 4-0 series victory over the Lakers shows how distant the two teams are, at least this season. But it was nothing Bryant cared to discuss afterward.
“We’ve got a bigger challenge than worrying about beating the Clippers in one game,” he said. “They obviously performed extremely well against us all four times. Our concern is playing well in order to get into the playoffs, get guys healthy and go in there and see what we can do.”
The Clippers are already in. And although the division championship is nice, no body was in a celebratory mood at the end of the day.
“It means something to me,” Griffin said. “It’s my first one. But at the same time, we kind of had the mindset that this was what we were supposed to do. We want something a little bit more than that.”