Blake Griffin brought the jaw-dropping dunks, but it was the Los Angeles Lakers that had the last laugh in their 113-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Despite two instant-classic dunks from Blake Griffin over Pau Gasol, the Lakers were able to build up a 14-point lead and then hang on, thanks to Kobe Bryant (31 points, six assists, five rebounds) and Andrew Bynum (36 points, eight rebounds, four blocks). Both players were dealing with nagging injuries as well.
Bryant scored 16 points in the first quarter and Bynum had 17 by the half, as the Lakers held a comfortable eight-point lead. The Clippers made a furious comeback to tie the game up, but in typical Kobe-like fashion, he ensured they didn’t take the lead.
In what has become a legit rivalry with real intensity, it’s the Lakers that take the decisive “road” win and the 2-1 series advantage this season.
There are two highlights from this game that are going to be repeated on SportsCenter all day on Thursday, and both of them have to do with Blake Griffin.
Here is the first insane dunk, where he caught Gasol napping after a missed shot just one minute into the game.
The second one is my personal favorite. Gasol went up expecting to contest the shot, and instead, he was posterized badly. With both players in the air meeting at the same time, the larger frame of Griffin prevailed in a major way.
While the resurrection of the Clippers has been fun this season, the team still reminds us of its ineptitude from time to time, as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA tweets:
The Clippers just did a video vignette honoring Chris Paul as "NBA Offensive Player of the Week." Umm, that award does not exist.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 5, 2012
With the ridiculous first quarter Kobe had, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times ponders if a historic night was in order:
Bryant's going to end up with 81 if Randy Foye stays on him— Mark Medina (@MarkGMedina) April 5, 2012
While Kobe didn’t come close to the mark, it sure did seem that way early on.
There was no doubt who the YouTube star was on this night. Blake Griffin had two insane dunks over Pau Gasol that made the Spaniard look like nothing more than some sort of prop. ESPNLA’s Arash Markazi believes it may have been the two best dunks of his career:
Move over Mozgov and Perkins, make room for Gasol. Blake Griffin did it again.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 5, 2012
Jim Rome of the CBS Sports Network feels personally embarrassed for Gasol:
I don't care if the Clippers complete this comeback or not.I just want to see if Griffin gets Pau again. I'm humiliated & I wasn't there.— Jim Rome (@jimrome) April 5, 2012
But as the Bill Walton Trip reminds us, it’s Gasol who owns the last laugh over Griffin:
Blake = 2 dunks. Pau = 2 rings. After the sting from the dunks wear off, Pau will go home & stare at his bling. Blake will stare at his Kia.— The Bill Walton Trip (@NotBillWalton) April 5, 2012
Another memorable moment came at the end of the third quarter, when Bynum caught a cross-court pass with under three seconds left and immediately sprinted to the three-point line to heave a prayer at the buzzer.
It was rather comical considering he didn’t need to go all the way behind the line, and he did so in the midst of the controversy surrounding his decision to launch threes. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register pokes fun at it:
Kobe just sought out Andrew for a personal high-five. Guessing it's for the 11-point lead, not the specific 3-point attempt, eh?— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) April 5, 2012
And in the end, despite the exciting dunks, the only thing that truly matters is the final score, as Bleacher Report’s own Gabe Zaladivar reminds us:
Andrew Bynum: A
When this guy chooses to play hard, he is almost unstoppable.
He was a monster in the paint, showing off a bevy of post moves that would make Dwight Howard jealous. He shot 13-of-20 from the field and, maybe more importantly, hit 10-of-12 free throws.
There is no doubt that Bynum is now the second-most important player on the Lakers after Kobe.
Kobe Bryant: A
Bryant started off the game on absolute fire, with 16 in the first, but turned off the jets a bit in the second half. He finished 13-of-19 from the floor, a mark any Laker fan would gladly accept.
Then, with the game on the line and the ball in his hands, Bryant drilled a cold-blooded, long two over Randy Foye to all but ice the road win. That was the biggest play of the game.
Ramon Sessions: C
He’s now firmly entrenched as the starter and is struggling to mesh with his new teammates. He scored 16, but turned the ball over four times.
The worst part of his night was on the defensive end. He was absolutely abused by CP3 off the dribble and didn’t contest many jump shots, either.
Chris Paul: A
Paul still has it.
He used his incredible quickness to abuse the Lakers' backcourt with his dribble-drive. The result was a jaw-dropping 22-point, 16-assist line that almost single-handedly kept his team in the game.
There is no doubt in my mind who the best point guard in the league is.
Blake Griffin: B-
Two insane dunks don’t make up for his lack of production in the fourth quarter and the fact the team was outscored by 14 when he was in the game. He finished with 15 points while shooting 7-of-16 from the field.
The Lakers now hold a 2.5-game lead over the Clippers for the No. 3 seed, and for the first time in a while, I think it’s safe to say the Purple and Gold aren’t going to surrender it. The team is getting better and more comfortable with the new players, and that’s bad news for the rest of a wide-open Western Conference.