It’s simplistic, but not inaccurate, to see Wednesday night’s Lakers win over the Clippers like Andrew Bynum saw it. He was asked about Blake Griffin’s dunk on Pau Gasol (you can decide which one).
“He can have the highlight, we’ll take the W,” Bynum said.
But that W — a 113-108 win for the Lakers that may cement them on top of the Pacific Division and as the three seed in the West — is made up of many little things. Little steps of experience and execution that the Lakers have learned as the core of their team has battled for championships, little things the Clippers are still learning. Sometimes the hard way.
“We got to learn how to win these games and close these out,” said Chris Paul, who finished with 22 points and 16 assists. “I think this was a good learning process for us, because this is how the playoffs are. Down the stretch everybody in the gym knows who the ball is going to on both ends of the court and we gotta find ways to manage it, and unfortunately we didn’t tonight.
They didn’t on the dagger shot — a Kobe two that put the Lakers up four with 24.5 seconds left. The Lakers ran a side pick and role with Kobe and Ramon Sessions to try and get a switch. Coach Vinny Del Negro said after the game the Clippers wanted to trap, but they didn’t execute it well. Kobe spun toward the baseline and got to his spot — 20-feet out along the baseline — where he buried the jumper with Randy Foye’s hand in his face. Rule No. 1 for defending Kobe is to keep him out of his favorite spots on the floor. Kobe knew how to get there, the Clippers didn’t know how to stop him. They paid.
The Clippers had won six in a row coming into this based on defense, but they let the Lakers shoot 51.8 percent for the game. Andrew Bynum was a beast inside and scored 36 on just 20 shots, Kobe had 31 on 19 shots.
With the Clippers taking the ball out of the basket so often, they didn’t get a chance to get out and run, the other thing that had fueled their winning streak. While this game was faster at 93 possessions than both teams have averaged this season, it felt like the Lakers controlled the pace.
Now the Lakers control their own destiny. The Lakers are 2.5 games up on the Clippers with 12 to play, and for the Clips 8 of those 12 are on the road. The Lakers now also have won the season series and the tiebreaker with the Clips. The Lakers have a tough schedule left — three against San Antonio plus games against the Mavericks and Thunder — but it’s hard to see the Clippers closing the gap.
The Clippers are getting there. But there is a lesson to learn about defensive execution mattering more than offensive fireworks. An at times painful lesson.
But once they learn it the tables may flip in this cross-town rivalry the Lakers have owned for as long as anyone can remember. For now, the Clippers have the highlights but the Lakers have what they really want.