The Lakers, those neighborhood bullies who have beaten up on the Clippers every chance that comes along the last two seasons, finally got punched in the nose by the little guys Friday night.
Breaking their custom of cowering meekly at the sight of their superior cross-town competition, the Clippers ended an 0-for-Los Angeles losing streak with a thunderous 120-109 win over the Lakers before a schizophrenic crowd of 14,858 that cheered whichever team was rolling at the time.
Most of the time, it was the Clippers, who seemed staunchly determined to finally hold up their end of the supposed rivalry. It took 10 games to do it, but the Clippers (18-26) sent the Lakers (32-9) slinking back to Inglewood with black eyes.
This one was special not only because of the Clippers' breakthrough. It marked the first time in more than a year that the Lakers, suddenly losers of three of their last four, have lost consecutive games.
Some might want to put an asterisk by this Clipper accomplishment, since injured Magic Johnson and Kurt Rambis did not play for the Lakers. The way both teams were playing, though, the outcome still might have been the same if the Lakers had their starting point guard and power forward.
Marques Johnson, the other Johnson who does remarkable things with a basketball in town, had a fabulous game for the Clippers, scoring 22 points (8 of 11 from the field) and passing for 8 assists.
He was supported by the center play of Kurt Nimphius and rookie Benoit Benjamin, who combined for 40 points and 13 rebounds. Perhaps the surprise of the night was that Benjamin, who had a career-high 18 points, held his own against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (25 points).
All told, the Clippers outran the best running team in the NBA, often turning Showtime into Slowtime. Their aggressive defense flustered the Lakers and caused their offense to sputter. What's more, the Clippers just seemed to put in more of an effort in a game they considered vital.
It was the Clippers' fourth straight win and fifth in the last six games. If the season were to end today, the Clippers would be tied for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
Of course, the season is only half over. But the Clippers are facing the rest of it with a positive attitude. It shows in their play.
Trailing by only one point after the first quarter, the Clippers outscored the Lakers by 15 in the second quarter, leaving the Lakers' mouths agape in astonishment as they went to the locker room at halftime trailing, 66-52.
The Clippers opened as much as a 19-point lead with 6:30 left in the third quarter, before the Lakers broke out of their funk. But even a spirited Laker comeback in the fourth quarter could not deter the Clippers from breaking the Lakers' stranglehold on Los Angeles professional basketball.
As the first half ended and the Clippers and Lakers filed off the court, the Sports Arena crowd stood an applauded a dominating performance.
For once, however, they were cheering for the Clippers, who stomped all over the Lakers for a 66-52 halftime lead.
The Clippers showed the Lakers what it felt like to be totally outplayed. After a slow start, in which the Lakers took a 6-0 lead, the Clippers recovered and found themselves trailing by only one point (30-29) after the first quarter.
But it was in the second quarter that the Clippers exploded and the Lakers folded. In the first four minutes, the Clippers put together a 14-4 run that included several Laker-like fast-break layups.
Marques Johnson initiated many of the fast breaks, including perhaps the best play of the first half. Johnson stripped Michael Cooper of the ball, and it was retrieved by Michael Cage. Darnell Valentine then broke for the Clipper basket and Cage threw a strike to him for an uncontested layup.
About two minutes later, it was Johnson who finished off a fast break with a layup, giving the Clippers a 47-36 lead. But it was feared that Johnson also had finished himself off in the process.
Johnson was leaning so far over on his twisting layup attempt the only part of his body that could break his fall was his face. Johnson lay under the Clipper basket for about 30 seconds while play resumed. He was shaken only momentarily and returned later in quarter to hurt the Lakers. The Lakers, meanwhile, made a run at the Clippers twice in the second quarter but could get no closer than five points--55-50 with 3:27 left. The Clippers scored the last eight points of the quarter to take a commanding 14-point lead at halftime.
Johnson ended a spectacular half for both himself and his team with a three-point play with 11 seconds left.
Johnson scored all 11 of his first-half points in the second quarter. Nimphius led the Clippers with 13 first-half points.
James Worthy was the only consistent Laker in the first half, scoring 13 points. Abdul-Jabbar had a good first quarter--scoring 11 points, but was limited to two free throws in the second quarter and seemed bothered by Benjamin's defense.