1. There was an air of certitude coming from Pau Gasol following the Lakers' 96-91 win over the Clippers. It wasn't quite an "I told you so," but he spoke like a man who felt vindicated. Gasol went 9-of-13 from the floor for 23 points and added 10 rebounds and four assists. "We made sure we used a little more of our interior game so it would open things up for our exterior game," Gasol said. "That's just the way it works." Gasol said the coaching staff drew up a couple of more plays to ensure he'd get the ball in the post so he could attack.
He didn't screw around. From the very outset of the game, he ran down to the box like a man possessed. If he didn't establish position against Blake Griffin on one block, the Lakers would run a cross-screen to free him up for a deep entry catch on the other. We saw a show-and-go against Reggie Evans, a smooth shot-fake and dribble-drive against a recovering Griffin (courtesy of a nice pocket pass from Kobe Bryant off a well-executed pick-and-roll) and a strong seal along the baseline for that nice pass in traffic from Metta World Peace (though, according to Kobe, that was Ron Artest out there on Wednesday night).
"I made myself aggressive," Gasol said in a television interview immediately after the game. The phrasing was telling.
2. Chris Paul suited up for the first time since these two teams met 10 days prior, but his 26 minutes suggested he isn't yet 100 percent. The Clippers' offense, which had been humming with machine-like efficiency before Paul was sidelined with a strained left hamstring, sputtered in the second half.
If you're the Clippers, what kind of shots are you generally looking for? Opportunities for Griffin at close range; Paul optimizing space to get a clean jumper or a smooth driving lane to the rack; maybe Caron Butler as a weakside release after the defense tilts the floor; kickouts for Billups that result in open 3-point looks or a chance for him to draw contact against an imbalanced defender.
The Clippers didn't generate anything of the kind in the fourth quarter. Down two with 1:40 to play, Paul buzzed in and out of traffic and drew Andrew Bynum on a mismatch. He backed Bynum out, but with only three seconds left on the shot clock Paul launched a 26-footer. The Clippers' next two shot attempts were blocked at the basket, which effectively sealed the game, but the trouble for the Clippers started long before that.
3. Griffin had a prolific night from outside the paint, shooting 6-of-10 beyond 10 feet. Like most defenses, the Lakers yielded Griffin space at midrange to limit his dribble attacks. He used his agility to propel into a spin move and then launch a turnaround jumper. Building on the confidence of his stroke, Griffin later went to a step-back jumper over Gasol. The midrange game presents a dilemma for Griffin. He isn't a high-percentage shooter from distance, but he also knows it's a shot he needs to make with some proficiency if his game is going to evolve to the next level. On Wednesday night, the Lakers' length inside might have been a motivating factor or he might have simply felt comfy from outside.
4. Bryant threw the ball away early looking for teammates against pressure, but credit him for finding Derek Fisher repeatedly along the arc. Fisher was the constant beneficiary of a Clippers defense that paid little or no attention to its floor balance defensively. The Lakers pounded it inside, and any incursion into the paint drew the entire Clippers defense. Fisher faded to the perimeter and was on the receiving end of some skip passes from Bryant with serious altitude.
5. It’s very hard for the Clippers to generate much offense when they have some combination of DeAndre Jordan, Solomon Jones and Reggie Evans as their frontcourt. Crazy as it sounds, Griffin is the Clippers' stretchiest big man not named Brian Cook. You have to wonder at what point the Clippers will look to add a more offensively minded big man, because they're barely treading water when the combined range of their power forward and center is roughly the length of a Twix bar. The Clippers can opt to go small against certain opponents, but against the Lakers, Trail Blazers, Thunder and most of the top teams in the West, it’s just not a feasible scenario, which means they're stuck with an anemic unit on the floor for considerable stretches.