With “Battle: LA” hitting the big screen this past weekend, it only made sense for that theme to make its way to the hardwood, as the Los Angeles Lakers (52-20) played host to their locker room rival Clippers (28-45) on Friday evening.
However, unlike recent years, this matchup is no longer a tale of a big brother bullying his younger brother. Rookie sensation Blake Griffin has breathed new life into the Clippers’ organization, making the team one of the most exciting upcoming teams in the league; and providing relevance to the NBA’s lone hallway rivalry.
Pledging to donate $1,000 to the victims in Japan for every point he scored tonight, Pau Gasol opened the game on fire for the Lakers, scoring eight of the team’s first 15 points, leading an offensive effort that saw the Lakers hit eight of their first nine shots, en route to an early 18-10 lead.
Continuing their control of the game, Kobe Bryant helped power the Lakers to a 10-0 run with six points of his own, while Gasol added four points to his donation total. Facing a 16-point deficit, Mo Williams drained a 3-pointer to end the run and bring the Clippers within 13, 30-17.
Nearing the end of the period, rookie forward Al Forouq-Aminu lobbed a half-court pass to Blake Griffin, who slammed home an emphatic alley-oop slam, and the Lakers took a 10-point lead, 33-23, into the second period.
After an offensively-driven first quarter, the second frame of play started off slightly different, as the Lakers only converted two field goals in almost the first six minutes of play. However, their scoring drought was ended when Shannon Brown threw down a reverse, one-handed hammer that put the Lakers back up by seven, 40-33.
Keeping the dunk-a-thon alive, Ron Artest slammed down a one-handed, reverse jam of his own, extending the Lakers’ lead to six, 42-36. The pickup game atmosphere continued as Williams found Griffin for another alley-oop put down, which brought the Clippers within three before Odom nailed a triple, giving the Lakers a five-point cushion.
As the first half was winding down, Odom pick-pocketed Williams and drove down the court for the late score, and the Lakers took a 57-48 lead into the halftime break.
Coming out of the half, the Lakers and Clippers couldn’t gain any sort of momentum, but the Lakers maintained a steady cushion throughout the third period, never letting the Clippers get closer than four points.
While the second quarter was laced with high-flying dunks and slams, the third period was slightly different, as Ron Artest and Griffin combined to miss three dunks. However, while Artest couldn’t seem to find the bottom of the net on his slams, he was feeling it from beyond-the-arc, knocking down two triples from the corner mid way through the period.
Artest’s second three gave the Lakers a 13-point advantage, but the Clippers quickly returned the deficit to single digits behind two free throws from Farouq-Aminu and a basket by Williams.
Although the Lakers held a 13-point lead late in the period, the Clippers ended the quarter on a 7-2 run, and only trailed by five, as the two teams readied for the fourth and final frame.
Slowly but surely, the Lakers tightened up the screws and got into gear as the fourth quarter progressed. The Clippers scored the first three points of the period and with their starters back on the court, the Lakers maintained a soft cushion, but remained the driver’s seat for the rest of the game.
A jumper by Bryant with just over four minutes to go, tipped the century mark for the Lakers, taking a 101-93 lead, essentially putting the game on ice, since the Clippers couldn’t cut the deficit to lower than four points for the remainder of the contest.
Trailing by four, 108-104 with under a minute to go, the Clippers had a shot at turning the tables, but Artest swiped the ball from Griffin, putting the stopper in the Clippers’ chances at stealing a close one.
While the Clippers kept it close, they couldn’t get into striking distance and time eventually ran out, as the Lakers held on for a 112-104 victory.
Bryant and Gasol paced the Lakers’ offensive effort, scoring 37 and 26 points, respectively. Artest was also instrumental in the victory, tallying 15 points, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Playing in his first game back since being handed a two-game suspension for a hard foul on Minnesota’s Michael Beasley last week, Andrew Bynum returned to the court, and powered the Lakers’ defense, as he finished with 12 rebounds and three blocks.
Leading the way for the Clippers was Williams, who recorded 30 points on 11 of 16 shooting. Griffin also chimed in a helping hand, totaling 22 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Clippers, who have lost five of their last 10 games.
The Lakers will return to the court on Sunday evening when they play host to the New Orleans Hornets, who recently lost two-time all-star David West to a season-ending ACL injury.