It was billed as the Battle of L.A., and it didn't disappoint. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, within a game of each other in the loss column and playing the rubber game of their season series, fought each other to the final minute. It took a Kobe Bryant baseline jumper with a hand in his face with 24 seconds remaining, giving the Lakers a four-point lead, to finally decide the contest. With the 113-108 win, the Lakers moved two and a half games ahead of the Clippers for third place in the Western Conference and the top of the Pacific Division. They also hold the all-important tie-breaker by virtue of winning the season series.
Bryant and Andrew Bynum were nothing short of spectacular for the Lakers. Bryant, who shot 39% from the field in the month of March, rose to the occasion in the big game as he so often does and shot 13-19 from the field, most of them with a high degree of difficulty; he finished with 31. Bynum, showing no ill effects of the sprained ankle that kept him out of the game last night, shot 13-20 from the field on his way to 36 points, one shy of his season high. Together they scored 67 of the Lakers' 113 points, while making two-thirds of their field goal attempts. The rest of the Lakers combined to score 56 points on 39 percent shooting.
The Clippers got a season-high 28 from Caron Butler, 22 points and 16 assists from Chris Paul, and points-rebounds double-doubles from Blake Griffin (15-14) and DeAndre Jordan (11-13), but in the end it wasn't enough as they hurt themselves with turnovers in the fourth quarter. They only committed 10 miscues in the game, but seven of those came in the fourth, including four in the final three minutes.
The Lakers, who have been less than impressive in close wins over sub-.500 teams like the Hornets, Warriors and Nets recently, came out sharp in this one. Bryant shot 7-10 in the first quarter as the Lakers jumped out to an early lead. They led by five after one quarter, eight at halftime, and stretched the lead to 15 at 88-73 after a 10-0 run late in the third quarter. But a Randy Foye three pointer to close the third got the lead down to 11 entering the final period.
The Clippers scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to immediately close the gap to three. Unfortunately, they also started getting sloppy. The defense was finally beginning to make plays after allowing the Lakers to score at will for most of the game, but on back to back possessions after getting the stop they wanted and securing the rebound, they threw away the outlet pass. Moments later, Eric Bledsoe made a poor decision to go on a one-on-three fast break and his miss on one end resulted in an uncontested dunk for Andrew Bynum on the other.
But despite the mistakes, the Clippers continued to claw their way back. The tied the game at 102 on a short jumper by Paul -- the first tie since 14. Moments later they took a 104-103 lead on a DeAndre Jordan hook shot -- their first lead since 4-2. But poor execution over the final three minutes cost them their best chance at a Pacific Division title in franchise history as Bryant and the Lakers pulled away.
The game featured multiple monster dunks from Griffin. He opened the scoring for the Clippers with a two-handed follow dunk on top of Pau Gasol. Gasol was probably lamenting the poster he'd been put on by that play -- that is until he got put on a different poster that surely made him yearn for the good old days of the first dunk. Gasol now joins Timofey Mozgov and Kendrick Perkins in the long line of NBA players who have been eviscerated by Griffin -- though Gasol is the only one of that ignominious group that wound up on his wallet.
But Griffin and the Clippers spent plenty of time on SportsCenter last season -- and lost 50 games in the process. They'd gladly trade the highlight reel dunks for a win Wednesday night. Instead, the Lakers who will be making a poster of the final score as they maintain their stranglehold on L.A. basketball with a crucial win.
For all of Wednesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.