Lakers and Clippers rivals now
If the Staples co-tenants didn't have a rivalry before Wednesday, they have one now
LOS ANGELES -- The conversation didn't involve him. The game was long since over. Only the final score was in doubt. But Chris Paul wasn't about to walk away. Not without letting Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and whoever else was still watching the Lakers' 96-91 win over the Clippers on Wednesday night know that his team still had something to say.
The Lakers may have won the second installment of what is clearly going to be a heated city rivalry for years to come, but this ain't over. It's not even tabled until the next time these two teams play April 4.
It's just getting started.
"They got us tonight," Paul said with a little wink. "But we'll get them again later."
Paul isn't the first Clippers player to give a statement like that after a loss to the Lakers. He's just the first Clippers player I believe. Or rather, this is the first time it seems like the Clippers have enough talent to have caught the Lakers' attention in a serious way.
For the first time in a long while it felt like this game meant as much to the Lakers as it did to the Clippers. That both teams had something to prove. That the Lakers' biggest enemy wasn't their own lethargy and indifference to their previously red-headed, woebegone Staples Center co-tenants, but the Clippers themselves.
Which is why Paul couldn't walk away from Bryant and Gasol at the end of the game. Couldn't just let them enjoy their first win in four games and soak in the cheers from the still-heavily Lakers crowd.
In another year, Gasol lets it go. Walks away, tunes him out, moves on to the next one.
Not this time. Not this year.
"I'm not much of a talker on the floor. I just try to do my best to help my team win the game," Gasol said. "But obviously if there's a couple guys talking, you talk back."
Yeah, and you push back, too.
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No, really. Gasol actually pushed him. Softly, on top of the head as if to say, "Enough already, get out of here."
Paul might've deserved it, but he didn't have to like it.
He pushed him back. This time a little harder. And because of their height difference, he had to jump a little to make his point.
"He tried to touch the top of my head. I don't like that," Paul said. "I got a son of my own. I don't know if Pau's got kids, whatever, but don't touch the top of my head like I'm one of your kids.
"I don't know what his intentions were and it doesn't matter. I don't know if he's got kids but I'm not one of them. I went back and I tried to treat him like little Chris."
It was the perfect ending to a game that turned into a shoving match. The teams combined for six technical fouls. Lakers forward Josh McRoberts got tossed after getting tangled up with Clippers forward Reggie Evans. Nothing was peaceful or loving about Metta World Peace as he wrestled Blake Griffin to the ground over a loose ball in the third quarter.
"That was Ron Artest out there tonight," Lakers second-year forward Devin Ebanks joked. "That wasn't no World Peace."
The games between the Lakers and Clippers always get a little chippy. Last year it was Griffin and Lamar Odom getting into a shoving match at the end of the game, when Odom thought the young power forward was going a little too hard for rebounds at the end of a game the Clippers had control of.
This time felt different, though. Too much has changed in this city. Too much is still changing.
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Every time the Lakers see Paul throw a lob to Griffin or DeAndre Jordan, they can't help feeling a little stung he isn't on their team. Every time general manager Mitch Kupchak eats dinner in the press room, he has to look at a picture of Paul in a Clippers jersey.
Kupchak insists he and the Lakers have moved on. But really, they had no other choice after NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed the Lakers' trade for the brilliant young point guard on Dec. 8.
For the last six weeks the Lakers have just put one foot in front of the other. They've seemed down, dazed, depressed even.
It wasn't until Wednesday night that they looked like a team that might run again with some fight left.
It's fitting, in a way, that the Clippers brought it out of them. It took a staredown with the team that reminds them of how wronged they've been this year to help them start heading in the right direction.
"There's a point where I step in and Metta steps in when things get a little too chippy," Kobe Bryant said after the game. "It's like, enough of the bullcrap."
Ah, but it's enough only for one night.
This isn't over. Paul made sure to serve that notice.
It was one game. There will be more.
As he walked out of the arena late Wednesday night, Paul stopped for a moment to break something down with Chauncey Billups. Griffin had stepped out of bounds before shooting what would've been a game-tying 3-pointer. Paul and Billups blamed themselves and got to work on the next time around.
"We're two guards who pride ourselves on executing in the last few minutes," he said. "We let that one get away from us."
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLA.com.