|CLIPPERS DROP GAME, SERIES TO LAKERS |
- RYAN MENEZES
LOS ANGELES - For all the hoopla and noise that those clad in purple and gold made early in the matchup for supremacy between Los Angeles' NBA teams, the Clipper fans in the bipartisan crowd finally got their chance to roar in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers' double-digit lead had vanished, and the two teams were trading baskets with the game and season series on the line. It had turned into a matchup of crunch-time performers, with Chris Paul leading the Clippers and Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum tag-teaming for the Lakers.
On Wednesday night, the Lakers' duo outlasted the Clippers and the Lakers took the game, the decisive one in the three-game season series, 113-108.
It was the last time the two teams, who both shook off talk of a budding rivalry, will see each other in the regular season. But the setting may as well have been a playoff game with what was on the line and the atmosphere inside Staples Center.
And for Chris Paul, it served as a lesson for a team with its eye on the postseason.
"We've got to learn how to win these games and close these out," Paul said. "But I think it was a good learning process for us because this is how the playoffs are. Down the stretch everybody in the gym knows who the ball's going to on both ends of the court. We've got to find ways to manage it. Unfortunately we didn't tonight, but I think it can help us in the future."
Difference Maker: Lakers head coach Mike Brown didn't know the status of Bynum, who was nursing a left ankle sprain that sidelined him Tuesday, an hour before tip-off. Bynum showed up, and he wasted no time in making an impact. He had 11 points in the first quarter as the Lakers got off to their hot start and once again got touches when the game got close. With less than two minutes to go, Bryant fed Bynum, who earned a pair of free-throws against Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Bynum had a game-high 36 points against a host of Clippers defenders led by Jordan."
Turning Point: Paul re-entered the game after the Clippers reserves had lowered the deficit from 15 points to just five, and immediately went into closer mode. In three minutes, Paul led the Clippers back to tying the game with his trademark pick-and-roll game, taking advantage of Laker big men who switched onto him.
Stat Line of the Night: Bynum had 36 points and 8 rebounds in a performance that was as dominating as it was efficient. He shot 13-of-20 from the field, 10-of-12 from the free-throw line, and didn't commit a turnover while blocking four shots.
More Stats: Bryant had 31 for the Lakers, more than half (16) in the first quarter.
Blake Griffin had 15 points and 14 rebounds for his 34th double-double of the season. He opened the game with a booming put-back slam over Pau Gasol, then put Gasol in another highlight by soaring over the Lakers big man for a right-handed tomahawk slam in the third quarter.
Chris Paul had 22 points and a season-high 16 assists.
Nick Young led the reserves with 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting, sparking the second-half comeback attempt with nine consecutive points during one stretch.
Hot: Caron Butler had 23 of his 28 total points at halftime on 8-of-13 shooting with three 3-pointers. Butler's been known for his fast starts this season and he once again kept the Clippers afloat.
"Caron was just moving without the ball and he hit a lot of tough shots too," Paul said. "That's what he does and what we need him to keep doing."
Not: The Clippers ball-handling in the second half. Immediately after the reserves cut the Lakers lead to just one possession with 10 minutes to go, the Clippers got two stops but couldn't get the ball past halfcourt both times. Those were two of seven fourth-quarter turnovers that the Lakers turned into seven points.
"You can't make those turnovers in big games," Del Negro said. "You've got to get a shot every time."
On the first half:
Del Negro: "We didn't get enough stops to get in the open court. They shot too high a percentage for us to get some easy baskets."
Foye: "We let them get too comfortable in the beginning. They got a flow and it kind of carried over into the second quarter."
On Griffin's big third-quarter dunk:
Kenyon Martin: "It's just one play. It was a great play, don't downplay it, but the win is more important."
Paul: "It could have been [a turning point]. It was exciting but at the end of the day we lost."
On the standings:
Eric Bledsoe: "Luckily we have vets like Mo, CP and Chauncey [Billups]. They keep an eye on that and we take it one game at a time.
Paul: "We definitely could have used it for the tiebreaker but there's a lot of season left."
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