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A Whole New Ball Game

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This isn’t normally how the script goes.

For the first 30 minutes, all signs were pointing to the Lakers reasserting themselves as the team in LA, clinching their playoff spot, with the Clippers laying an egg in their most important game of the season. Kobe was scoring from all over the court, getting to the line, and creating easy shots for his teammates. When Kobe drained a three-pointer from the wing for his 38th point with eight minutes left in the third quarter, giving the Lakers a 17-point lead, the fat lady was already warming her pipes.

Same ol’ Lakers. Same ol’ Clippers. Business as usual.

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Except that these aren’t your father’s Lakers. And these aren’t your father’s Clippers either.

The Clippers, having blown several big leads lately, responding to the challenge by slowly and methodically chipping away at the lead behind the low-post game of Elton Brand and the constant penetration of Corey Maggette. But Kobe, with some help from (surprise!) Smush Parker and Mo Evans, fended off the Clippers comeback efforts, and the Lakers maintained a comfortable ten-point lead with eight and a half to go. Kobe had 50 points at that point, and the only question seemed to be whether he was going to finish with 65 or 75.

Except Kobe didn’t score the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Lakers’ season-long shortcoming, its matador defense, reared its ugly head once again. With the floodgates open, the Clippers ran their offense to perfection with high pick and rolls and inside-out post to perimeter play, slicing and dicing their way to a 26-8 finish to the game and a stunning 118-110 win.