Heading into today's fourth and final meeting of the season between Los Angeles' two NBA teams, the Clippers had beaten the Lakers three straight times. In fact, the Clippers had so dominated the first three meetings that the Lakers had led for a total of 63 seconds, by a total of one point, in the three prior meetings.
When Jodie Meeks hit a three pointer for the Lakers first points, he gave them their first two point lead over the Clippers of the season. In fact, the Lakers hit their first four three pointers, led by as many as six points, and held the lead for eight and a half minutes of the first quarter. But a 12-2 Clippers run, spearheaded by seven straight by Matt Barnes to close the quarter, allowed the Clippers to regain the lead which they never relinquished.
The rest of the game played out much like all the other Laker-Clipper games this season. Once the three ball stopped falling for the Lakers (they made their first four, followed by 3-20 the rest of the way), the Clippers were able to take control of the game through the excellence of Chris Paul and their big advantages in athleticism and depth. The Clippers outshot the Lakers, 50% to 43%, and outrebounded them 50-36. In one of the more inexplicable aspects of the game, Dwight Howard, the top rebounder in the league, managed only four boards.
Paul and Blake Griffin had mirror-image excellent performances. Paul scored 24 points, handed out 12 assists and grabbed five rebounds. Griffin also went for 24/12/5, though in his case it was a dozen rebounds and a handful of assists. For Griffin it was his first double digit rebounding game in three weeks. After three full days off since their last game, it seems as if Griffin's sore calf has recovered. He played today without a protective wrap on the calf, and seemed to have his full athleticism back at his disposal. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan had breakaway dunks in about 90 seconds in the fourth quarter that sealed the game in a fitting manner, as the Clippers have been running past the Lakers all season now.
In addition to Griffin and Paul, Jamal Crawford had 20 for the Clippers, and was crucial in carrying the second unit all game. The Clippers played their full 10 man rotation while the Lakers went with seven. Four Lakers played at least 38 minutes, including Kobe Bryant who didn't check out of the game until Mike D'Antoni finally threw in the towel with 40 seconds left. At one point in the second quarter, five Clipper reserves were playing against Bryant, Howard and Pau Gasol -- and held their own. As the game wore on, the Clippers pulled away, owing at least in part to the fact that the Lakers were playing so many minutes and were tired.
This is exactly the type of performance the Clippers need in the final two weeks of the season. Still a game behind Memphis in the loss column, two back of Denver, the Clippers need Paul and Griffin to step up and lead the team, and need everyone else to make their contributions as well. Barnes was huge today, getting the lion's share of minutes on Bryant while also shooting 5-6 from the field for 12 points against his former team. Caron Butler was the fifth Clipper in double figures, scoring 14 points that included a huge dunk in the first quarter that helped turn the tide early. Jordan had 13 rebounds to lead the team and kept Howard off the boards. Ryan Hollins was +17 in 19 minutes off the bench. It was definitely a group effort for the Clippers.
The Clippers only have one game against a playoff opponent left on their schedule, but it's a big one: they play the Grizzlies in Memphis next Saturday. The Clippers really need to win out if they hope to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but it all comes down to that game in Memphis. If the Clippers win in Memphis, they'll probably host the Grizzlies in the first round, and might even catch Denver which would allow them to host the Warriors or the Rockets. If they lose in Memphis, they can expect to be back on Beale Street when the playoffs start.
For now though, there's time to savor another win over the Lakers, and something that has never happened in the history of the intercity rivalry -- a Clippers sweep. If the Lakers actually miss the playoffs this season, the Clippers would be the only NBA game in town for as long as they stay alive. Let's not pretend that this town will turn on the Lakers after one sweep or one year out of the playoffs -- but at the same time, there's no denying which team is better right now, and which one will be better for the foreseeable future.
Get the Lakers perspective at Silver Screen and Roll.
|Final - 4.7.2013||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Los Angeles Lakers||25||24||21||25||95|
|Los Angeles Clippers||30||26||26||27||109|