Somehow the Lakers made this one close when they had no business doing so.
But no matter how many weaknesses the Lakers showed on offense, defense and speed, Kobe Bryant’s greatness overcame it all.
It still felt short as the Lakers lost 107-102 Friday to the Clippers. But it wouldn’t been a wash if not for Bryant’s 38 points. While he scored 16 of those points in the fourth quarter, the Lakers’ defense held the Clippers to 20 fourth quarter points.
But no matter.
The Clippers’ 18-point lead proved too hard to overcome.
Bryant’s 23-foot baseline jumper cut the Clippers lead to 99-97 with 1:07 remaining. But Chris Paul then hit two free throws after Dwight Howard collected his sixth foul and put Pau Gasol in the lineup after sitting out most of the fourth quarter because of a quiet two-point effort on 1 of 6 shooting. Bryant’s three-pointer on the next possession rimmed out and Gasol failed to get the rebound.
That set up Paul hitting a 21-foot jumper in Bryant’s face to widen the Clippers’ gap to 103-97 with 19 seconds left. The two teams traded baskets, but it didn’t matter. The Clippers secured the win.
The Lakers had no business winning this game.
Blake Griffin dunked his way toward 24 points. Paul toyed with the Lakers on cross overs and pull up jumpers en route to 30 points. And aside from Bryant’s greatness, the Lakers offered nothing in return.
Gasol had a disappearing act. Metta World Peace’s return to the starting lineup offered only two points on a 1 of 6 clip. Howard overshadowed his 21 points and 15 rebounds with defensive inconsistency, a popped right shoulder and showing endless frustrated expressions. Jordan Hill brought energy (13 points), but he left late in the third quarter because of a grade 1 right ankle sprain.
Meanwhile, the Lakers shot a combined 6 of 25 from three-point range, was outrebounded 47-36 and allowed the Clippers to score 20 points off their 12 turnovers.
Bryant’s effort helped mask those deficiencies to make the outcome respectable. But it wasn’t enough to make the outcome a win.
As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Lakers….
Dwight Howard popped his right shoulder after getting tangled up with Caron Butler on one play. Howard stayed in the game, but he didn’t stay active on defense. He didn’t rotate properly on a play that resulted in a wide open Blake Griffin dunk. But Howard started pointing the finger at Lakers guard Steve Nash. The two also exchanged words in last week’s loss in Denver when JaVale McGee drove down with a wide-open dunk.
Oh, and by the way, the Clippers lead 87-71 after three quarters, prompting reserve forward Matt Barnes to yell, “We run this town.”
The Lakers tried to stop the Clippers from feeling so confident by going on an 7-0 run to open the third quarter.
But then the Clippers put on a clinic.
Griffin, who posted 21 points, threw down dunks. Chris Paul, who has 19 points, threw down jumpers. Aside from Kobe Bryant (22) and Howard (17), the Lakers threw down little. Pau Gasol has a quiet three points, as does Metta World Peace (two points).
Clippers 61, Lakers 51
The “Lob City” Clippers tried to break away from the “Slowtime Lakers, entering halftime with a 61-51 lead.
The Clippers wasted no time doing so, opening the second quarter with an 8-0 run. At first, it appeared the Lakers couldn’t stop the Clippers other than calling timeouts.
But the Lakers erased an 18-point deficit by going on a 16-3 run punctuated by Bryant’s 25-foot 3-pointer that reduced the Clippers’ lead to 48-43 with 3:05 remaining. Meanwhile, Jordan Hill provided plenty of energy off the bench by scoring all nine of his points in the second quarter.
Still, the Clippers took advantage of some Lakers mishaps.
Dwight Howard collected his third personal foul with 2:41 remaining after fouling DeAndre Jordan on a layup that gave the Clippers a 50-43 cushion following his missed free throw. Lakers reserve guard Jodie Meeks has only gone 2 of 9 from the field, including a 1 of 6 mark from 3-point range. The Clippers also converted 10 fast-break points on eight turnovers. Back to back dunks from Blake Griffin and Chris Paul’s jumper extended the lead to 57-46 at the 1:23 mark. Metta World Peace’s third foul on Matt Barnes with 34.4 seconds left widened the Clippers’ lead to 59-49. Paul’s fallaway jumper over Bryant then ended the first half.
Then there’s the balance.
The top Lakers scorers include Howard (13 points) and Bryant (12), while the Clippers feature plenty from Griffin (11 points), Paul (10 points), DeAndre Jordan (six points), Matt Barnes (six points) and Eric Bledsoe (six points).
First quarter Clippers 29, Lakers 22
The Lakers-Clippers rivalry has played out as advertised.
Clippers guard Chris Paul threw a pair of lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Lakers center Dwight Howard swatted Paul as he drove inside. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant stole the ball before the 34-year-old made a thundering dunk over Paul. On an early possession, Lakers forward Metta World Peace shoved Paul’s head before jumping over courtside fans to retrieve a loose ball.
Yup, seemingly every play that accounted for the Clippers’ 29-22 first-quarter lead proved exciting to watch.
After struggling with his energy and perhaps his surgically repaired back in the Lakers’ loss Tuesday to Philadelphia, Lakers center Dwight Howard looked more engaged by posting nine points on 3 of 5 shooting, three rebounds and one block. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has an efficient six points on 3 of 6 shooting.
But the Clippers have the lead for a few reasons.
They held the Lakers to 37.5 percent shooting. The Lakers only went 4 of 8 from the free throw line and 0 of 6 from 3-point range. And the Clippers feature a wide cast of contributions, including Griffin (six points), Caron Butler (five points), Paul (four points), DeAndre Jordan (four points), Wilie Green (four points) and Ronny Turiaf (four points).
The Lakers also featured some lineup changes. Metta World Peace started at small forward after playing the past six games off the bench, moving Darius Morris back out of the lineip. Meanwhile, reserve forward Antawn Jamison made his first appearance in seven games, going scoreless in three minutes.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org