Chris Paul held up the red T-shirt reading ‘Can’t Stop Los Angeles’ for a fast postgame photograph. He didn’t put it on, and neither did his Los Angeles Clippers teammates.
There was no celebrating on court or in the locker room after they beat the Lakers 109-95 to clinch the Clippers’ first Pacific Division title in franchise history against a team that has long overshadowed them.
”It just feels like something we were meant to do,” announced Paul, who had 24 points and 12 assists. ”It means we’re headed in the right direction. We’re not satisfied. We understand this is something small in comparison to the big picture.”
Blake Griffin had 24 points and 12 rebounds as the playoff-bound Clippers swept the Lakers 4-0 for the first time since Donald Sterling bought the team in 1981.
Jamal Crawford had 20 points off the bench, DeAndre Jordan had 13 rebounds and Caron Butler scored 14 points for the Los Angeles Clippers, who knew that even if they lost, they might have clinched later Sunday if Utah won at Golden State. Utah defeated the Warriors 97-90.
”We didn’t want to do it that way,” Paul recounted. ”We wanted to clinch on our own terms.”
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said, ”You have to earn it and today we did.”
As the division winner, the Clippers are assured a top-four seed but will only open the playoffs with home-court advantage if they finish the season with a better record than the team in 5th, which now is Memphis.
”Hopefully, we’re playing well at the right point going to the playoffs,” Crawford related. He chalked up winning the division title at home against the Lakers to ”the basketball gods set it up that way.”
Dwight Howard scored 25 points, including 9 of 13 free throws, for the Lakers, who played without injured starters Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. Kobe Bryant added 25 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds, and Pau Gasol had 12 points and 13 rebounds as the Lakers’ 3-game winning streak ended. Scores
Playing as the local team, the Clippers dealt their Staples Center co-tenant’s playoff hopes a serious blow.
With the Jazz’s win, they moved a half-game ahead of the 9nth-place Lakers, who have 5 regular-season games left. The Jazz own the tiebreaker with the Lakers.
”We’ve got a bigger challenge than worrying about beating the Los Angeles Clippers in one game,” Bryant said. ”They obviously performed extremely well against us all 4 times. Our concern is playing well in order to get into the playoffs, get guys healthy, and go in there and see what we can do.”
The Los Angeles Lakers led by 7 points toward start the game before the Clippers took the lead for good. The Lakers owned a 2-point edge in the paint, but Clippers had more 2nd-chance and fast-break points. They also controlled the boards, 50-36.
”They made some pretty tough shots, and they’d players come in and make some big baskets under duress,” Bryant recounted. ”They kind of kept us in check and they’d get some turnovers and get out in transition.”