The latest battle between the Lakers and Clippers could have resulted in some history, as the Clips were looking to sweep the season series against the Lakers for the first time. The Lakers maintained a half game lead over the Jazz, with the Mavericks one game behind them. Every game is more and more crucial as there are only five games left in the season, and the last three games against the Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets. The Clippers snapped a three-game losing streak with a victory over the Suns.
Tonight’s game came down to the amount of turnovers each team committed. A key for the Lakers was slowing down the Clippers fast-paced, high-flying offense, and the best way to do so is taking care of the ball. Another way the Lakers contained the Clippers was by pushing Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan away from the basket, and corralling Chris Paul to one side of the court. Steve Blake started at the point guard position and shared responsibilities with Jodie Meeks. Fortunately Metta World Peace was seen working out before the game, and claimed he was ready to play.
There were a lot of Laker fans in attendance, despite the Clipper home game. The Clippers won the tip, but the Lakers did a great job playing physical on defense. They pushed Blake and DeAndre out of the key, and corralled Chris Paul to one side of the court. The Lakers committed two early turnovers resulting in a Blake Griffin dunk, but the Clippers struggled early to make open jump shots. Caron Butler was matched up on Kobe and has historically done a good job containing the Mamba. Kobe, who has been averaging 47 minutes in the last two games, was playing the facilitator role in the first quarter. Offensively, the Lakers looked for Dwight Howard, who made two baby hook shots, and forced DeAndre to pick up an early foul. Pau Gasol also played aggressively, attacking the basket against Blake Griffin.
Earl Clark entered the game and sank two threes, but he was matched up against the quicker Caron Butler who made him pay for it. Antawn Jamison also had a tough match-up against the physical Blake Griffin, who had seven points in the first quarter. The Lakers smaller second unit struggled to rebound which may be an issue later in the game. Ex-Laker Matt Barnes entered the game with energy and contributed seven points in three minutes, throwing down an alley-oop, sinking a three, and hitting a jump shot. The Clippers did a great job, make or miss, of pushing the ball up the court, a perfect contrast to the Lakers playing style. The Lakers controlled most of the first quarter, but a last minute push, due to six Laker turnovers, gave the Clippers a 30-25 lead.
The Lakers started the second quarter with another turnover, resulting in another Barnes lay-up. The Clippers energy seemed to exceed the Lakers, as the Clippers had the luxury of sitting their starting five in the second quarter, but the Lakers only put two substitutes in. The Lakers continued to look inside as Pau and Dwight had been extremely effective. Dwight Howard was the first to score double digits, remarkably making four of six free throws. The Lakers struggled to shoot from the outside, missing several open shots.
The Clippers began to clear to floor for Jamal Crawford, arguably the best one on one player in the league. Earl Clark was guarding Crawford, who tried to use his length and size to contain the crafty shooter, who was able to score 14 first half points. The Lakers fast-break offense picked up, due to the Clipper’s turnovers. Kobe finished the half with only four points, but nine assists. The Clippers maintained the lead 56-49.
The Clippers scored first in the second half with a reverse dunk by Blake Griffin. Pau and Dwight started the half cold, and the Clippers extended their lead to thirteen points. Kobe attacked the basket and made both free throws, as he barked at his teammates “Let’s go!” Caron Butler then foolishly tried to dunk over Dwight Howard who stopped him at his summit. The refs began calling more fouls, which slowed the Clippers aggressive defense, resulting in another Dwight Howard dunk. Blake Griffin looked to take advantage of the smaller Antawn Jamison, but Dwight was ready to help, blocking his shot on several occasions.
The Lakers shooting began to slump, as the team missed a series of open shots. This may be attributed to fatigue as the Lakers have only played two substitutes, leaving Kobe Bryant in for the entire game. The Lakers struggled to rebound though, giving the Clippers several second chance opportunities. After three quarters of play, the Clippers out rebounded the Lakers by ten. The Clippers maintained their lead at the end of the third quarter, with a 82-70 lead.
With Blake Griffin and DeAndre on the bench, Jordan Crawford and Chris Paul looked to isolate and attack their defender. Kobe Bryant took the Lakers offensive into his own hands, scoring over the Clippers entire team. Matt Barnes is familiar with Kobe’s competitive nature, as the two have had their share of physical battles. Dwight Howard saw more opportunities due to Kobe aggressive play, and continued his surprisingly stellar free throw shooting, 7-11. The Clippers extended their lead to 15 after a five shot, four point possession after Matt Barnes was fouled shooting a three and the Clippers continued their rebounding dominance.
Even though the Lakers started the game strong they just couldn’t sustain the energy. The Clippers dominated the boards and took control in the second quarter and never looked back. Even though the Lakers made a few runs to cut the lead back to single-digits, Paul and the Clippers always seemed to have an answer. The Lakers’ four-game winning streak ended at Staples, and for the first time in franchise history they were swept in the season series by the Clippers. When it was all said and done, the Clippers beat the Lakers by a final score of 109-95.