You are the Los Angeles Lakers, you can only play with fire for so long. But still, when you get burned, you don't expect it to be by the Los Angeles Clippers.
But that was the way it was at the Sports Arena Wednesday night, when the Lakers' 15-game winning streak came to an end, as did the Clippers' 11-game losing streak.
Bizarre? Unheard of? Probably, but it was all achieved in an exciting 110-109 overtime victory.
The win came after a bad shot by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the closing seconds with the Clippers leading, 108-106. And it was further achieved when Benoit Benjamin, often criticized by Los Angeles pro basketball fans, sank two free throws with six seconds left.
Fittingly, the Lakers went down scratching and clawing with Magic Johnson throwing in a three-point shot at the buzzer for the final margin.
But the Lakers simply had dug themselves into too deep a hole this time. This was the fifth straight game in their 15-game winning streak in which they had been behind by nine or more points in the first half.
"We've been toying with disaster for the last eight or nine games," the Lakers' Michael Cooper said. "It caught up to us tonight."
Laker Coach Pat Riley left the court with a big smile, his arm draped around Clipper Coach Gene Shue. But afterward, when asked if getting the monkey of the long streak off his back was a relief, he said, "No. No way. I was just about ready to start talking about this streak, to start talking about it as something special.
"I really don't think, however, that we were affected by the pressure of the streak, at all. It just wasn't that way.
"But I'll say one thing. I'm happy for Gene Shue. If there is any one man I'd like to see have this win, it would be him."
Riley had set up a play in a timeout huddle before the Lakers went out to tie the game at 108-108. But when the ball swung to Abdul-Jabbar, he took what appeared to be a misstep and ended up with an awkward shot, which missed.
"Kareem probably lost track of the clock," Riley said. "He was the person we wanted to get the ball to, but it was not the shot we wanted."
Riley agreed that the Lakers had been flirting with danger in the latter stages of their streak.
"We got down by nine again early tonight," he said. "I don't like that, and I talked to our starters about that. We started out all right tonight, but then about 8 to 10 minutes into it, we just let down."
Riley, drenched in sweat from the ordeal of the late-game coaching effort, had two subjects to stress in his postgame discussion: Crediting the Clippers and showing concern that the end of his team's streak didn't mean further erosion.
"First, give credit to the Clippers," he said. "They deserved it. Let's stop talking about how bad we played, and talk about how good they played.
"My concern about this coming to an end is that we opened the season winning eight in a row, and then we crashed. Remember, we lost 6 of 9 after that. That's what I'm concerned about right now.
"As for the streak? Let's just say I want to think about it as 15 great games."