Karma No Match for Blake Griffin as Clippers Beat Lakers
"Karma can be a "b****," as he reminded us recently, and so it was perfectly fitting that Donald T. Sterling was nowhere to be found at Staples Center on Sunday afternoon.
The shameful Clippers owner didn't deserve this kind of fun.
As if beating the Lakers 99-92 wasn't reason enough for the loyal Clippers Nation to rejoice, there was -- for the first time in quite some time -- a bigger picture at play that was actually worth looking at. Nine wins in 13 games. An identity forming. Young stars like Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan rising and an old one re-emerging in Baron Davis.
Yes, even Sterling -- who had a prior engagement and thus wasn't present to heckle his own players -- would've been cheering at this one. And in case you wondered, this wasn't the Lake-Show vs. the Blake-Show by any stretch of Jerry Buss' imagination.
Gordon (30 points on 13 of 20 shooting) simply outplayed Kobe Bryant (27 points on 8 of 17 shooting), showing why -- as a source close to the Clippers told FanHouse -- their possible involvement in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes ended some time ago with the unwavering stance that Griffin and Gordon were untouchable. Davis not only produced (14 points, eight assists, two turnovers) but protected, coming to Griffin's aid in the final seconds when Lakers small forward Lamar Odom started a bitter beef that resulted in the ejection of four players after losing yet another rebound to the robotic rookie.
But as has been the case so often during the Clippers' recent surge, Griffin was the driving force who drove his point home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. He exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 18 points after he had missed nine of his first 10 shots and grabbing eight of his 15 rebounds. In doing so, Griffin logged his 26th consecutive double-double, although his streak of 14 consecutive games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds came to an end.
And he did like only he can. There's a reason this 6-foot-10, 251-pound 21-year-old has inspired a Facebook campaign to nickname him "The Cyborg." He powers through opponents in ways that Pau Gasol could only dream of, and the Lakers power(less) forward struggled more than enough for Bryant to bang on a familiar drum regarding his running mate's toughness.
Such is the reason Bryant found himself defending Griffin afterward, when he disagreed with Odom's assertion that the Clippers forward was being overzealous, perhaps disrespectful, when he shoved Odom in the back en route to grabbing the ball on a made free throw with 5.6 seconds remaining and the Clippers holding a nine-point lead.
Bryant loves that sort of swagger, of course, and maybe, just maybe, wishes his teammates chose that route on a more consistent basis.
"It's just the right thing to do," he said of Griffin playing until the final buzzer regardless of the score. "You've got to play all the way through. You play until the final buzzer sounds. It's as simple as that. That's the way I grew up playing. That's the right way to play."
As opposed to, say, the way Gasol competed, finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds.
"I think Lamar just had to make a stand, because up to that point, Blake ran through Pau," Bryant said. "It wasn't nothing personal.
"Blake just ran through us, and we didn't have anybody who was going to put up a stand. I think that kind of turned the tide. ... We just didn't put up much of a fight."
The Clippers' joyous moment became the Lakers' teaching moment. And Bryant, who is well aware of the ongoing Lakers campaign to land himself, Gasol and Odom in the All-Star game that will be played here next month, didn't hesitate to vote for the opponent in spite of that fact.
"He should be an All-Star," Bryant said when asked about Griffin. "It's a joke for people not to consider him an All-Star. He should be. He has what, 30 straight double-doubles? What more do you want from a power forward? What more do you want from him?"
Odom, who had just 10 points and six rebounds, wanted Griffin to take his foot off the gas once the game was determined. But when he soared for the meaningless rebound instead, Odom grabbed his jersey and swung Griffin underneath the baseline to spark the scene. Griffin looked confused and perturbed, but appeared to be retreating. But then Davis ran into the frame, saying afterward that he told Odom to "back off" before he was met by Ron Artest. The Lakers small forward was ejected despite playing peacemaker, joining Odom, Griffin and Davis among those who were ejected.
"Maybe I overreacted, but I just feel like if (you're) up nine (points) with the free throw going through (the basket) ..." Odom said. "The ram in the back, at that point? Like any other time, I get it. You play hard. You're strong. Whatever. But the ram up the back, I just, I don't get it, so I'm going to have to react."
Odom wasn't the first veteran to let Griffin crawl under his skin. The youngster's edgy, relentless ways have made him a favorite among the fans and an irritant to opponents.
"He's a great athlete," Gasol said. "He's got a strong body, and he has learned to use it more. He's obviously one of the most physical players in the league.
"He still hasn't developed a lot of moves, but he tries to sometimes go over your back or shove you or jump through you, so he's trying to play his game."
Which, as Davis explained, can be quite annoying to the older guys.
"He plays with a chip, and at the same time he plays with a tenacity that a lot of times people, they misread that -- especially veteran guys," Davis surmised. "Veteran guys don't like being shown up, so like tonight I think Odom got a little frustrated because Blake wouldn't stop competing and pushing him, so he kind of lost his composure. That's what a lot of veteran guys do. They try and ground him. They try and frustrate him, but he continues to bring it."
The Clippers brought it until the end this time, avenging their Dec. 8 loss to the Lakers in which they let up just enough late to waste an otherwise-impressive effort. And even with Sterling at the helm, the good karma may, in fact, finally be coming the Clippers' way.
E-mail Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @sam_amick.