Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, center, drives to basket between Clippers guard… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
They all say publicly that it's not a rivalry -- and it seems as if both the Clippers and Lakers are right.
The Lakers say the Clippers have to win more games before it's truly a rivalry. The Clippers don't dispute that.
The last of three regular-season games between the teams was as intense as the first two, as close as the first two, and ended with a 113-108 victory for the Lakers on Wednesday night that snapped the Clippers' six-game winning streak in a designated Clippers home game at Staples Center.
The Lakers won the season series, 2-1, and moved 21/2 games ahead of the Clippers in the Pacific Division. Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant made sure it remained almost two decades since the Lakers have lost a season series to the Clippers, who last won one when they took three of five during the 1992-93 season.
Bynum scored 36 points and Bryant had 31, the last of which -- a 22-foot jumper over Randy Foye with 24.5 seconds left -- gave the Lakers a 110-106 lead, helping them hold off the Clippers after they blew a 15-point lead they'd built late in the third quarter.
"It's good that we fought our way back into it," said Blake Griffin, who finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds. "But at the same time, we can't give up big leads like that and let guys get hot like that. But it happens. Obviously Kobe is a great scorer and Andrew is playing really well. So you've got to hand it to them, they played well."
During a Clippers timeout after his jumper over Foye, Bryant, who also had five rebounds and six assists, floated to the Lakers' bench with both arms extended like an plane landing.
"He said to me, 'I saw the double team coming and I tried to rip the ball across before it came,' " Foye said about Bryant. "I kind of nudged him a little bit, but he rose up and it was good."
The Clippers had no answer for Bynum, who played after missing the previous game because of a sprained left ankle. He worked the Clippers over, making 13 of 20 shots from the field and 10 of 12 from the free-throw line. He also had eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
"I thought he played very good basketball, especially on a tender ankle," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said.
The most significant thing about the outcome is that the Lakers now own the tiebreaker over the Clippers. So if the two teams end the regular season with the same record, the Lakers would be the higher-seeded team in the playoffs and, in all likelihood, the division champions.
"We have to just keep playing," said Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro, whose team is fourth in the Western Conference, one spot behind the Lakers and 11/2 games ahead of Memphis and Dallas. "It's not just about the Lakers. It's about Memphis and Dallas and Denver. It's everybody. Everything is so tight in the West. We just have to play."
Caron Butler had a season-high 28 points and Chris Paul had 22 points and 16 assists for the Clippers. But Paul had a big turnover with the Clippers down, 105-104, when Metta World Peace stole the ball from him.
The Clippers had seven of their 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
"They made the bigger plays at the end of the game," Paul said. "We've got to learn how to win these games."
There's been a definite edginess to the teams' games this season, and this one was no exception.
A total of 11 individual technical fouls were called in the first two games. So it really wasn't a surprise when a double technical was called on Griffin and Pau Gasol late in the third quarter.
Gasol already was upset because he had been dunked on by Griffin earlier in the third. It was one of Griffin's signature dunks, the Clippers' All-Star forward rising up and throwing down a one-handed slam over the Lakers' 7-footer, his left hand on Gasol's face. Griffin was also fouled by the stumbling Gasol, who was none too happy to be pushed down.
The dunk seemed to ignite the Clippers, who strung together a series of highlight plays. Foye, who had been struggling all night, scored on a tumbling reverse layup and DeAndre Jordan dunked off a lob pass from Paul, pulling the Clippers to within 73-68 midway through the third.
But ultimately, the Clippers couldn't make enough plays at the end and their seven-game home winning streak was snapped.
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Head to head
The Lakers and Clippers' three meetings this season:
Jan. 14 | Clippers 102, Lakers 94
*--* Leading scorers Clippers Lakers C. Paul 33 K. Bryant 42 *--*
Jan. 25 | Lakers 96, Clippers 91
*--* Leading scorers Clippers Lakers B. Griffin 26 Bryant 24 *--*
April 4 | Lakers 113, Clippers 108
*--* Leading scorers Clippers Lakers C. Butler 28 A. Bynum 36 *--*