One Side of the Coin: Clippers Coming Up Lakers' Tail
While panic is setting in for the purple and gold, confidence is rising for the red, white, and blue. In a playoff atmosphere at Staples, the Clippers withstood a huge second-half surge by the Lakers and hung on for a 90-82 win.
With the Clippers notching their first victory over the Lakers this season, and seventh out of eight overall, the two LA teams finally seem to reverting back to preseason expectations as the regular season winds down, as the Lakers stumble to the finish line with four losses out of five. The Clippers are now just a game-and-a-half behind their co-tenants and back at .500 for the first time in two months.
For the Clips, last night’s game was nearly a damaging replay of last Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets. They outworked, outhustled, and outplayed the Lakers in all aspects while sprinting out to a 15-point halftime lead. Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, and Jason Hart were nearly flawless from the perimeter, and Kobe was having to work extremely hard to get his points.
But when the third quarter rolled around, the Lakers began to clamp down, and the Clippers relapsed into their tendency to isolate one side of the court and play one-on-one ball. Meanwhile, the Lakers were able to create offense in transition off of turnovers and crept all the way back to within one point with five minutes to play.
It was an unlikely hero that came to the rescue: Chris Kaman. He with the big bald spot. As bad as Kaman has been most of the year, he must be given his props when he earns his check. He turned in his best effort in weeks with 17 points, 14 boards, and 4 blocks. He repeatedly schooled young Andrew Bynum in the post and was active on the offensive glass, taking advantage of the Lakers’ smallish and thin frontline. Kaman was reinserted right after the Lakers had gotten to their closest point in the fourth, and stopped the Lakers’ momentum with a left-handed baby hook and drawing a foul on Bynum for free throws on consecutive possessions.
As has been the case during the team's hot streak, the Clips played as a unit on both ends and got important contributions from many sources. Five players scored in double figures, with six getting between nine and seventeen shots. Contrast this with the Lakers, who watched Kobe jack up 34 shots, and were too often standing around waiting for him to make a play.
Of course, it was the waves of defenders that Mike Dunleavy threw at Kobe that harassed him into his poor shooting, in particular Mobley and Q. Ross, and the mostly solid defensive rotation that prevented the Lakers' role players from getting many open jumpers out of those double teams. Despite the Clippers' dismal 33-point second half, they showed the ability to make the critical plays when they were most needed.
With the Lakers' once seemingly unbreakable stranglehold on the six seed slipping quickly, expect next Thursday's matchup between LA's finest to be even more intense with potentially more at stake. The way things are trending, it could be the Clippers' chance to bury the Lakers next time around.
AP photo by Mark J. Terrill