When is a basketball game not about basketball? When it’s about something more than a basketball game.
The packed crowd at Staples Center Wednesday night watched part two of the Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers’ unique, but not unusual back-to-back unfold on the court they both call home. In Tuesday’s game “at Clippers,” the home team drubbed the “visiting” Lakers 103-81 in a laugher that opened with a 20-2 Clippers run. This time it was the Lakers’ turn to wear the home unis, and the Staples Center Changeover Crew had 24 whole hours to swap out the parquet. But really, this night wasn’t about winning and losing as Lakers commentator and 16-year vet A.C. Green said afterwards during the postgame studio broadcast: “This game was about the conductor.”
Can You Feel The Kobe Love Tonight?
Significantly, the final Lakers-Clippers contest marked Kobe Bryant’s penultimate home game, and his 69th career matchup against the Clippers, his most against any NBA team. Fans came out in force. Aaron Rodgers was there. And Jack Nicholson sat in his regular courtside seat (a rarity for the most famous fan in sports during recent dismal seasons). Kobe didn’t disappoint them.
He played aggressively from the opening whistle, hitting two of his first three shots. Backing into coverage, he scored on a nice turn around jumper, then drove to the hole over a bewildered DeAndre Jordan for a reverse layup. He lit into teammate Roy Hibbert for not dunking on a foul, flashing his legendary competitiveness. Later, he made a nice play driving across the paint for an off balance jumper, then dropped in the free throw to complete the three-point play. He sank a beautiful three from the corner on an underhanded dish from Jordan Clarkson to put the Lakers up 20-17, and exited the first quarter with 10 points.
He returned in the second but was mostly ineffective. The Clippers held him scoreless, and the rest of the Lakers didn’t shoot much better. Julius Randle, who finished with a personal best 20 rebounds but only seven points said, “We couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean, honestly.”
The Clippers, meanwhile, turned in a true group effort. Blake Griffin, in his third game back from suspension/injury, started five-of-five and finished with 13 points. Chris Paul sank a couple early jumpers to finish with 13 points and eight assists. And J.J. Reddick had a hot shooting night, hitting three threes and scoring 15 on the night. The Lakers lost the first half battle in rebounds (29-23), field goal percentage (48%-37%) and turnovers (4-6); but most importantly assists (13-4) which exposed a lack of both offensive and defensive execution. The Clippers took advantage on a 14-2 run to close the half.
Though the Lakers played competitively in the second half, the outcome was never seriously in doubt. But at least Kobe gave fans more of what they wanted. It started with a steal he lobbed to a leaping Jordan Clarkson for a slam dunk. Then a pretty jumper on the next Lakers possession. Moments later he drove into the lane, cut right, faded left in mid-air and sank a high arcing shot over Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He left the game in the third quarter with 17 points on 6-17 shooting in 23 minutes of action. He would lead all scorers on the night, but his night wasn’t over yet, much to the delight of the swooning crowd.
After Doc Rivers made the choice to pull his starters early in the fourth, the Lakers used hot shooting from D’Angelo Russell and rugged play underneath from Tarik Black to claw to 11 down with five minutes to play. The crowd began chanting “K-O-B-E” and then went nuts when he rose from the bench and stripped off his sweats at the scorer’s table. He was unable to score, though, and the comeback stalled. Byron Scott finally pulled him for good with 47 seconds remaining to cheers, chants and a standing ovation.
DeAndre Jordan Plays Solid, Loses Cool
DeAndre Jordan scored his seventh dunk of the night at the 2:15 minute mark of the third quarter. He was unstoppable in the paint on fast breaks and a force defensively, finishing the game with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. But he let his passions get the best of him, challenging a routine foul call under the basket that earned him a technical from the refs. A few plays later, he shoved Lakers center Tarik Black as they tangled down the court in transition. Rivers pulled him shortly afterwards for backup Cole Aldrich. Jordan will have to keep his temper in check against much stiffer competition if he’s going to be an effective weapon in the Clippers’ playoff push.
Tarik Black Makes Most Of His Opportunities
Lakers center Tarik Black saw early action, and he made the most of it. A young player with upside the Lakers like, Black’s been caught in a numbers game behind Roy Hibbert and Robert Sacre and has had trouble getting minutes. Against the Clippers in the fifth-to-last game, he turned in a complete effort that bodes well for next year. Inserted in the first quarter with the second team, he started with a nice shake-and-bake to the basket for a score. He battled Jordan under the rim all night, showing toughness on the offensive glass, fighting for put-backs and driving to the hoop. Black scored a nice lay-in when he leaked right to catch an arcing floater from Marcelo Huertas. He finished with 11 points in 17-plus minutes with five rebounds - a performance that should earn him more chances in the season's final week.
D’Angelo Russell Makes History
After last week's string of tabloid headlines, D’Angelo Russell finally has something positive to talk about. With his two threes in the second half, he surpassed Nick Van Exel for the most made three pointers as a rookie in Lakers franchise history. He didn’t gloat much after the game, though, insisting that his primary focus now was to feed Kobe the ball.
A Scary Moment
With one minute remaining in the third, Clippers small forward Jeff Green collided knee-to-knee with a driving Tarik Black. Though the injury didn’t look bad on replay, Green stayed down on the floor in apparent pain for two timeout periods before being helped off the court by the Clippers training staff. He’s a key reserve and an important part of the Clippers’ rotation. It would be a big loss if he’s slowed for the playoffs. Announcers diagnosed the injury as a bruised knee, but he walked under his own power to congratulate Kobe after the game, and he didn’t look too bothered.