Jamal Crawford has rarely met a shot he didn't like, and that wasn't about to change with the Clippers and Lakers tied with just over a minute left on Friday night. Blake Griffin backed down Carlos Boozer in the post before kicking out to Crawford for his third three-pointer of the night, this one the dagger that would put the Clippers up for good.
Behind a huge game from Griffin, the Clippers knocked off the Lakers, 118-111, on Friday night. The Clippers moved to 2-0 on the season, while the Lakers fall to 0-3.
The Lakers had a chance with about 20 seconds remaining, but Kobe Bryant couldn't hit an off-balanced three-pointer that would have tied the game. Bryant had plenty of offensive highlights, but the Lakers simply had no answer for Griffin and couldn't get stops when they needed them.
Five Clippers reached double-figures, led by 39 points and seven rebounds from Griffin on 13-of-23 shooting. Crawford added 22 points and five assists of his own, with much of his work coming from the foul line (9-of-10). J.J. Redick (15 points), Chris Paul (12 points and 10 assists) and DeAndre Jordan (11 points) also helped pace the Clippers' offense.
Jordan Hill had himself a night for the Lakers. Hill hit 6-of-7 shots in the third quarter to get the Lakers back in the game. He would finish with 23 points and five rebounds on the night. Jeremy Lin added 17 points and nine assists in the loss.
Here are three big takeaways from the first of four Lakers-Clippers games this season.
1. Kobe can still get buckets
Bryant scored in a variety of ways throughout the game. He wasn't just hitting mid-range jump shots, he was showing impressive burst to the basket and a nice touch around the paint. As soon as Kobe exploded to the baseline for a reverse dunk, you knew he'd be dialed in:
No one would question the fact that Bryant is one of the best players of his generation, but his offensive success at the start of this season is still a little jarring. At 36 years old and coming two serious injuries lower body injuries, it wouldn't be surprising if Kobe had starting slowing down. Sure, his defense isn't close to what it once was, but he's still very much a threat in a halfcourt offensive set.
After scoring 31 on Wednesday during a blowout loss to the Suns and XX tonight, it seems clear that Kobe will continue to score as long as he can remain healthy and rested.
2. Blake Griffin is a real MVP candidate
It seemed like a safe bet that LeBron James and Kevin Durant would go back-and-forth grabbing MVP awards for the foreseeable future, but Griffin has already emerged as a dark horse candidate just a few days into this season.
Durant's foot injury has plenty to do with it -- even if KD comes back and plays at the level he did last season, so much missed time at the start of the year will probably knock him out of contention. LeBron was terrific in a win against the Bulls on Friday in scoring 36 points, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him become more a facilitator around Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving this season.
That brings us to Griffin, who finished in third in MVP voting a year ago. The improved jump shot he showcased in the preseason has proved to be sustainable and he's still every bit the athletic freak he's been since he's arrived in the league. The days of Griffin being viewed solely as a dunker are long gone. His passing, ball handling and newfound shooting ability makes him one of the toughest covers in the league, as he proved on Friday against the Lakers once again.
The Lakers simply had no answer for a player of Griffin's caliber. He torched a poor Lakers front court for 39 points on 13-for-23 shooting from the floor. He's been one of the best players in the league for a while now, but it looks like his game is taking another step.
Lapse by Lakers
3. The Clippers need to get it together defensively
Sure, the Clippers were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but Doc Rivers' team has still failed to slow down two uninspiring offenses in both games they've played this season.
The Clippers very nearly lost to a Thunder team playing without Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson and (for half the game) Russell Westbrook. Perry Jones III had the night of his life -- a real sign that wing defense could be a major problem for the Clippers later in the season.
The Lakers probably have more offensive firepower than that ragtag Thunder team from Thursday night, but they're not exactly world beaters. The Lakers lost their first time games by a combined total of 38 points for a reason.
The way Hill, Bryant and Lin went off against the Clippers is a bit disconcerting. Of course, it's still very early in the season, and Rivers has a long history of turning in very good defensive clubs. For now, we'll just say it's something worth monitoring.