The Los Angeles Lakers matched up with their cross-town rivals tonight, the Clippers, for the final head-to-head game of the season. The Lakers and Clippers split the last two meetings, and this game decided the tie-breaker and could have major playoff implications moving forward.
The Lakers held a 1.5 game lead over the Clippers in the division coming in and they needed this win to create some more separation.
The Lakers began the game by missing their first four shots and Kobe Bryant could not connect on his three early attempts. The Lakers were not going inside to their big men and the Clippers played the first few minutes off adrenaline. However, despite the perimeter oriented start for the Lakers, they began to feed the ball to Andrew Bynum and he scored the first seven points for the Lakers. At the 9:00 mark of the quarter, the Lakers held a 7-4 lead.
The Lakers eventually found their groove by attacking the rim and were getting easy looks near the basket or at the free-throw line. However, the Clippers also got out of their slump and were beginning to hit their shots. The team was getting in transition, and with Chris Paul running the offense, the Clippers got nice shots in the paint. With 6:00 remaining in the period, the Lakers were up big just two 14-12.
The Clippers were getting crushed in the paint, but the Lakers were helping to easy the pain with their offense slump. It took a while for the Lakers to snap out of their drought and to make matters worse, the Clippers stayed consistent on the offensive end. The Lakers could have opened up a large lead, but with the 6-16 shooting, they were only up 21-18 with 3:35 left in the quarter.
Kobe Bryant ended the first quarter well and was finally able to dominate on the offensive end. After 12 minutes of play, Bryant scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting and the Lakers held a 34-29 lead.
The Lakers second unit began the second quarter with big man Pau Gasol as the team’s offensive centerpiece. The reserves were shooting the ball extremely well and got shots in the paint nearly at will. Even with Kobe Bryant on the bench for a rest, the second unit did not let the lead dwindle down. In fact, they increased the cushion and helped the Lakers get a 43-31 lead with 9:46 remaining in the half.
The Clippers’ bench players also left a mark on the game and used their speed to cut into the Lakers’ lead. They were getting into the open and put a dent into the deficit. Eric Bledsoe dominated the opposition and was the catalyst to the Clippers’ surge. With 6:10 left in the half, the Clippers were down just 45-39.
The Lakers reinserted their starters into the game to regain the momentum and add to their lead. The starters increased the level of intensity and the defense stepped up big time. However, the Lakers still couldn’t get enough going to open up the game and missed out on opportunities. The Clippers were able to hit their shots and they remained in striking distance. With 2:35 left in the half, the Lakers were up 51-44.
The Lakers closed out the half well and finished 24 minutes of play with a 63-55 lead. Kobe Bryant led he way for the Lakers with 18 points on 8-11 shooting, followed by Andrew Bynum with 17 points. As a team, the Lakers shot 56 percent from the field and committed only three turnovers.
The Lakers began the third quarter very well and kept their foot on the gas pedal. The team was in control on the offensive end and Kobe Bryant continued with his success with the ball in his hands. However, the Clippers stayed in striking distance and never allowed the Lakers to run away with the lead.
Momentum was beginning to shift the Clippers way after a monster dunk by Blake Griffin over the Pau Gasol. After that poster by Griffin, the Clippers were re-energized and started to build some confidence. At the 7:11 mark of the third period, the Lakers held just a 73-68 advantage.
The Lakers found some temporary relief by feeding the ball to Andrew Bynum and the other big men. The Clippers did not have a true center who could defend the two seven-footers and that helped the Lakers keep a leg over the Clippers. Although the Griffin dunk had an immediate impact on the Clippers, it seemed to rejuvenate the Lakers. The Lakers increased their level of play on the defensive end were much more focused on offense. With 5:36 left in the period, the Lakers were back up by ten, 78-68.
The game no doubt became more physical as the quarter progressed and Gasol and Griffin were battling it out on every possession. Those two were getting tangled together and it was clear there was some animosity between them. After 36 minutes of play, the Lakers held a double digit lead. The Lakers closed out the quarter extremely well and held a 92-81 advantage. Bynum put in 29 points for the Lakers, while Kobe Bryant was right behind him with 27 points.
With both Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum on the bench to open the fourth quarter, the Lakers lost all of their confidence. The team was leading big heading into the final period, but they could not keep the momentum going. On the other end, the Clippers caught fire in the opening minutes of the quarter and went on a quick 8-0 run. With ten minutes remaining in the game, the Lakers were up just three, 92-89.
The Lakers and Clippers traded baskets and neither team was able to get a stop on the defensive end. The Lakers got most of their point in the paint through Bynum, whereas the Clippers were scoring mostly off misses on the fast break. Even though the Lakers let their big lead slip away with Kobe on the bench, the lineup did not let the Clippers get out in front. At the 7:11 mark of the fourth, the Lakers were up 98-93.
In the final four minutes of the game, the teams continued to exchange baskets and it was close throughout. Every possession carried great importance and it felt like a playoff atmosphere in the final minutes.
At the end of the day, the Lakers showed poise and confidence in the final minute. The team got stops when it needed and were able to play shut-down defense on the Clippers. Bynum and Kobe played the closer roles for the Lakers in the fourth quarter and they scored 36 and 31, respectively.
As the buzzer rang, the Lakers walked away with a 113-108 win and took a 2.5 games lead over the Clippers in the division, but more importantly, won the tiebreaker.
The Lakers will be back in action on Friday when they host the Houston Rockets at 7:30 p.m. PST.