Clippers win highlight reel, Lakers win game
Gasol was not quite sure what to do, but asking for a license plate number seemed like a good idea.
“It was a hit-and-run,” said Gasol, who was victimized twice by Griffin. “The ball went in and I was on my ass, and again, I woke up, I stood up and had a [expletive] forearm — sorry — I had a forearm on my face, in my throat.”
Gasol spoke with a bemused grin and his language — unusually salty for him — seemed to acknowledge that his misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time was about to go viral. Or at least join an endless highlight loop, which Gasol figures he’ll watch “just because, not because I have a great desire to watch. My teammates told me it was pretty impressive.”
Griffin’s signature dunk was not alone as the Clippers spent much of a tough, tense Wednesday night pleasing their home crowd with a dizzying array of dunks, gravity-defying drives to the baskets and blocked shots.
Yet while the Clippers won the highlight reel, the Lakers won the game, their 113-108 victory demonstrating that for all the signs of their inevitable aging and their daily dramas, the Lakers’ championship pedigree still counts for something.
At the moment, it means a 2 1/2-game lead in the Pacific Division, as well as the tiebreaker that accompanies winning the season series from their hallway co-tenants, and a comfortable hold on the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
“They’re going to make some spectacular plays,” said Kobe Bryant, who made some of his own in scoring 31 points. “We’re not going to make too many spectacular plays, we’re just going to do what we do and at the end of the day if we win, it’s because we made the fundamentally sound play, we play well together and we understand each other. Two points is two points.”
That point was made throughout the night, when dunks by Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Nick Young and Randy Foye, and the season-high 28 points from Caron Butler, were inevitably offset by Bryant and center Andrew Bynum.
Bynum, who sat out Tuesday’s win over New Jersey with a sprained ankle and a disgruntled attitude after national reports of his discipline problems, laced up his shoes, tossed back an energy drink and declined to talk to reporters before the game — and had to be reminded to remove a comb from his hair before heading to warmups.
Then he went about punishing the Clippers in the low post.
He scored 36 points with eight rebounds and four blocked shots. And when Bynum needed a break, Bryant provided it, including a fadeaway baseline jumper with 24.5 seconds left that all but sealed the win.
The Clippers stormed back from a 15-point deficit late in the third quarter, and when Chris Paul got in the lane and dished to Jordan, his soft hook shot gave them a 104-103 lead with 3:30 left. After that, though, it was the Lakers who made the big plays.
The Clippers turned the ball over four times, Foye missed a driving layup, and Metta World Peace, who took over guarding Paul down the stretch, stripped him of the ball once and forced him to miss a fadeaway jumper.
“We have to learn how to win these games, and close these out,” said Paul, who had 22 points and 16 assists. “I think it was a good learning process for us. This is how the playoffs are. Down the stretch, everyone in the gym knows where the ball is going at both ends of the court. We have to find ways to manage it. Unfortunately, we didn’t tonight.”
This type of high stakes environment is new for many of the Clippers, who started three players who never have been to the playoffs. They had hoped to push their longest winning streak in two decades to seven games, and win the season series with the Lakers for the first time in 19 years — with bigger aspirations of moving closer to winning their first division crown, and providing a stamp of legitimacy to a franchise that has long been synonymous with ineptitude.
“We’re trying to make it a rivalry,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said before the game. “I don’t think it’s a rivalry right now. We’re trying to start something here. Maybe it’s just me, but the energy in the building, walking in the building, the number of media that are here, the feeling in the locker room, it’s different, which is great. That’s what it’s all about.”
Del Negro was much more animated than usual, reacting like a fan with the swings in the game. He punched the air in the waning seconds of the third quarter when Jordan, trailing the play after falling out of bounds, hustled back and poked the ball away from unsuspecting Ramon Sessions, who was holding the ball for the last shot. Foye then hit a 3-pointer to draw the Clippers within 11.
If the Clippers had been able to finish their comeback, it might have been the second-most talked about play of the night. Griffin said the loss took any meaning away from the dunks. The Lakers, though, could afford to view it with reverence — and a little humor.
“Next time, Blake is going to have to dunk on me and Pau and if that happens, it’ll be a poster,” World Peace said. “I wouldn’t mind. It’s a hustle play. It’s great for the fans and it’s great for commercials, but I won’t be in that commercial if they don’t pay, I’ll tell you that.”
His asking price?
“At least half a mil,” World Peace said with a smile, and a degree of satisfaction, the type that money can’t buy.