That went out the window the moment Kobe Bryant posterized Chris Paul on a slam dunk in the second quarter as if this were 1998 ... and Blake Griffin dove over the scorer’s table for a loose ball in the third quarter as if this were a playoff game.
This game means more to these teams than simply a win or loss in the standings. It has become a rivalry game in this city, regardless of how polite the teams want to be in front of the media before and after games.
The Clippers’ 107-102 win Friday night gave them not only a 2-0 advantage in the season series but a 10-game advantage against the Lakers in the standings. The latter might be more important come playoff time; the former means just as much in the here and now when it comes to bragging rights.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Paul is a competitive guy. In fact, Bryant called him one of the most competitive guys he has ever been around. “He’s just a moody little dude,” Bryant said of Paul earlier this week. “He’s just a moody little dude. He’s very feisty and he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I think that becomes infectious.” That chip on his shoulder is part of what makes Paul great. And it’s hard not to have a chip on your shoulder when you play for the Clippers in Los Angeles. Everywhere you go people are asking you about the Lakers. Sooner or later it gets under your skin. Well, Paul played like he had something to prove Friday, registering 30 points, 13 assists and six rebounds. His coaches and teammates always tell him to be aggressive, and he has never been more aggressive than he was Friday. Before he hit the shot that put the game away, Paul looked at his brother C.J. sitting courtside and said, "Game time!" The next time Paul looked at his brother, it was game over.
Arguably the biggest reason the Clippers were able to jump out to the best record in the NBA and win 17 games in a row was the play of their second unit, led by Jamal Crawford, who is the early favorite to win the sixth man of the year award. The Clippers average 41.7 points per game off the bench, and Crawford is averaging 16.5 of those points this season. However, on Friday the Clippers were missing Crawford, who sat out with a sore right foot. The Clippers ended up leaning more on Willie Green, who finished with 10 points, and the rest of their bench, which combined for 30 points. As deep as the Clippers might look on paper, they have never really had their full team together. Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill also have been out for much of this season. "I'm running out of players here. Everybody says how deep we are but we don't have a lot of players," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We can't even practice. We're only deep when guys are healthy, and right now we're not real healthy."
Griffin steps up
It had been a rough couple of games for Griffin, who scored a combined 29 points over the previous three Clippers contests. Against the Lakers, Griffin scored 24 points and looked like his old self, with a couple of monster shots and even a couple of those midrange jumpers he has been working on. Griffin, however, got into early foul trouble and wasn't as effective on the boards, finishing with just five rebounds. But the Clippers got what they wanted from Griffin on the offensive end, and that was enough to come out with a win.