They may play in the same arena, and they may have an exciting new young star who can dunk up a storm, but when it comes to ruling Staples Center and the city of Los Angeles, the young Clippers are no Championship Lakers team.
Blake Griffin (22 points on 9-16, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) may be able to throw down impressive dunks, but he’s no Pau Gasol, who hit his first four field goals today with nothing but relative ease. With the extra incentive to score to raise money for tsunami relief in Japan, Gasol scored 26 points on an efficient 10-15, adding in 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. He scored on jumpers beyond the paint, received passes for uncontested hoops (including a very Showtime-like over the shoulder, no-look pass from Lamar Odom), and didn’t give up the ball once, despite the Lakers committing 14 turnovers in the game. The only thing Gasol gave away tonight was $26,000 to help Japan recover from their recent disaster.
Speaking of disaster, how about the Clippers’ Eric Gordon (7 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists) shooting just 3-14 from the field? The Clippers’ scoring talent didn’t hit his first field goal until six and a half minutes into the fourth and final quarter. The cause? Ron Artest and, indirectly, Kobe Bryant. As if it wasn’t enough to be smothered by Artest all evening, Gordon was also on Kobe Watch – both producing one exhausting game for the young guard.
Artest played with an extra shot of exuberance tonight. He played Eric Gordon’s shadow, blocking a couple of his shots, not to mention poking the ball away from his grasp on a number of occasions. And on top of his defensive success, he also scored 15 points on 6-11 from the field. He converted three of his five attempts from behind the arc and, not wanting Blake Griffin to get all the cheers, went baseline on one possession to mirror an earlier Shannon Brown reverse slam, and hopping with his biceps on display as he ran back on defense. Never mind the two dunks he missed in the third quarter. He made up for those four points by preventing the Clippers (on more than two occasions) from scoring themselves, including a key steal on the tail end of this close game when he knocked the ball out of the hands of a fastbreaking Blake Griffin.
Andrew Bynum, back from serving his two-game suspension, had another double-double, with 11 points on 4-6, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, countless altered shots and, like his fellow 7-footer, zero turnovers. When asked by Patrick O’Neal how it felt to be back on the court with his teammates, Bynum answered with a smile on his face, “It was fun! I came to do my job.” That Bynum, who attempted just six shots for the game, is having fun grabbing boards and rebounding is a problem…for opponents. For the Lakers, this enthusiasm in such an important role on the team is just what team needed.
Kobe Bryant had another huge night. 37 points on 11-21, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals – he literally did it all. He shot a three pointer, hit fadeaway jumpers, dunked, ran plays, distributed the ball, and played defense. Eric Gordon was no match for Bryant’s fire tonight.
The blemish in tonight’s win was the Laker bench. Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes shot a combined 5-20 from the field and accounted for six of the team’s 14 turnovers. And as they did in the Phoenix game, aided in squandering a double-digit lead. With the playoffs just 10 games away, the Lakers can’t afford to have an unproductive group of reserves. Whatever they need to do, Blake, Barnes and Brown need to get their Killer B instinct back, or the post-season will be more difficult for this Lakers team to get through than it has to be.
Save for a scuffle between Chris Kaman and Derek Fisher with just under 30 seconds left in the game, the evening was relatively uneventful, except for the Lakers’ 52 win. Next up is Chris Paul and the David West-less New Orleans Hornets, a possible first round match-up.
Pre-game Thoughts: Last of the hallway series for the Staples Center residents. This is the first time the Lakers will meet the new-look Clippers, with Cleveland imports, Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. Pau Gasol has offered to donate $1,000 for every point he scores and Magic Johnson says he will match however much Gasol raises for the Japanese tsunami relief. Let’s see how much his teammates help him on this mission.
Half-time Thoughts: 48-57 – So far it’s been all D. That’s D for “dunks” not defense, because after leading by as much as 16 points in the first quarter, the second unit came in and the lead turned into a mere three points. Blake Griffin has brought Staples Center to their feet with some ridiculous dunks, and Shannon Brown and even Ron Artest, have joined in the dunking fun. Kobe Bryant leads all scores with 17 on 6-13 and Pau Gasol, so far has raised $14,000 with his 7-10 from the field. Andrew Bynum has already blocked three shots and collected 6 rebounds. The Lakers have kept Clippers’ scoring machine, Eric Gordon, in check. He’s 0-7 in the half. The Lakers need to pick up their defense.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Lakers’ Bench – They got a real surge of energy when Matt Barnes returned to the line-up, but in the last two games, all they’ve done is lose leads. On Wednesday, they lost a 21-point lead. Tonight, it was a 16-point lead. And in the second half, with a chance to help close out the game, they spent possessions passing the ball around the perimeter and turning the ball over, rather than running an efficient offensive set.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol – for scoring his 26 points and raising $26,000 (which will be matched by Magic Johnson) for the victims of the tsunami in Japan. Also, Ron Artest – simply for being Ron Artest in every aspect – lockdown defense, scoring and comic relief.