Game Notes: Clippers at Lakers
It’s the Champs vs. the Chumps in this sibling non-rivalry.
by Graham Flashner and Sean Ceglinsky
Not only is this not Appelson, it’s not even Crawford and Peterson. Sean and I, who’d never met before tonight, joined forces to entertain you with our thoughts on the Lakers-Clippers opener at Staples Center. So sit back, stop tweeting for a moment, and enjoy the recap. Oh, and—don’t forget to post a comment. Even if it’s an insulting one.
On a night the Lakers are to be honored with their championship rings, they’re not even the hottest ticket in town. Across the street at the Nokia Theater, Paris Hilton, J-Lo, and dozens of other celebs are making their way down the red carpet to the premiere of Sony’s Michael Jackson documentary, “This Is It.” Welcome to blasé L.A.
Meanwhile, apocalyptic winds exceeding 60 mph are slamming Chick Hearn Court as I fight my way to Staples. An omen? A metaphor? The winds are so bad, the ESPN radio guys can barely do their show in the open-air broadcast booth. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Over to you, Sean…
Enough with being politically correct, let’s call a spade a spade: The Lakers are bullies. They are that proverbial big brother you wish you never had, the big brother the Clippers wish they never had.
The Lakers have been picking on their younger sibling for years and years now, constantly rubbing in their good fortunes while their younger kinfolk have been forced to constantly toil in the shadows.
Common sense says that, eventually, something has to give. The tables must turn at some point.
Well, that something did not give Tuesday night.
Before their season-opening 99-92 victory at Staples Center, the Lakers celebrated yet another NBA title by unveiling yet another banner and collecting yet another gaudy championship ring as the Clippers could only watch and wonder what it would be like to, for once, just once, not be considered the black sheep of the family.
Sean, I’ve got two words for you: Donald. Sterling.
– The schedule-makers have been kind to the champs tonight. Most teams don’t play well on ring ceremony nights, but the Clippers, who’ve lost eight straight to their tormentors by at least twenty points a game, are the ideal opponent. How confident are the Lakers? They have a new goal in mind for the season: winning more games than the 72-10 Chicago Bulls.
– To even things up somewhat, the Lakers are playing without Pau Gasol, nursing a strained hamstring.
– Lakers locker room is a media swarm, but very few players are around. I want to ask Ron Artest if he was serious when he said that if the Lakers don’t repeat, the blame should be his. Also, I’m curious to see his new haircut, featuring a big “L” (for Lakers, duh) shaved into one side of his head. But Artest isn’t here. Instead, I wander out into the hallway, where Phil Jackson holds court.
– Jackson has to be the only coach in the League who says he has “no concerns” heading into the season.
– By the time a few players straggle into the locker room, we’re kicked out early by the PR guys. Something about a ring ceremony.
– Matters certainly weren’t helped by the fact that, hours before the opening tip, the Clippers learned Blake Griffin’s injury is expected to keep him out for six weeks, perhaps more, unfortunately.
– While no one would admit as much, the setback suffered by the top pick from the 2009 NBA Draft had a deflating effect on Donald Sterling’s boys. Griffin was expected to come in and make a difference, at least make things more interesting.
– I wander down to the Clippers’ side, which is pin-drop quiet and nearly empty of life. DeAndre Jordan and Al Thornton are hanging out, and both don’t seem overly concerned about whether Griffin’s injury will negatively impact the team. Minutes later, Griffin, in Clipper sweats, dashes into the locker room and out of sight. “He tricked us,” Jordan jokes. “He’s ready to play tonight.” Er, not quite. Still, I only wish I could run like that with a fractured knee.
– The Lakers get their rings, and on hand to present them are players from championship eras past: Jerry West, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Norm Nixon, Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, AC Green. All get rousing ovations. Where are Glenn Rice and Isaiah Rider? Awright – now I’m getting nitpicky.
– While the Lakers were being showered with praise from NBA commissioner David Stern and love from seemingly everyone in Los Angeles, the Clippers were nowhere to be found, preferring to stay in their locker room during all the festivities.
– Actually, at this very moment, the Clippers are being honored backstage — with a commemorative set of stamps from the Postal Service, for their successful mail-in of last season.
– That’s almost as funny as Ron Artest’s new ‘do. Humbling their big brothers should have been plenty of inspiration. The excitement surrounding this highly-anticipated showdown, however, seemed to be missing from the moment the Clippers were announced to the pro-Lakers crowd.
– After Derek Fisher takes the microphone to address fans as the Lakers’ championship banner is unfurled, Artest takes the microphone to introduce the season. “L.A., big city of dreams, what’s cracking,” he hollers. Hey, it could’ve been a lot worse.
– And so it begins. Baron Davis appears to be motivated early on. He did, after all, lose a ton of weight over the course of the summer, coming in to the season in what appears to be the best shape of his life.
– First Lakers shot of season is a jump hook by Bynum – and he makes it. Good to see Bynum looking like his frisky self.
– Artest’s first Lakers shot looks much like where he left off in Game 7 here last May, when he wore a Rockets jersey – he clanks a three-pointer.
– Eric Gordon is mixing it up with Kobe Bryant, playing some hard-nosed defense, forcing No. 24 to throw up a wild shot. The referees bail-out Bryant, of course, calling a foul on Gordon, and somehow, the shot falls. Bryant proceeds to convert a three-point play, the conventional way.
– What bailout? The Lakers always get the calls at Staples. Kobe looks like he’s having fun out there – he skies for boards, gets it after it on D, and starts to give Gordon fits. Bad news for the rest of the NBA: Kobe still looks hungry.
– With Griffin out, and Marcus Camby struggling with his conditioning, Chris Kaman is forced to do a little bit of everything. He responds, getting up and down the court well, receiving a perfect pass from Davis and going strong to the hole before being hacked by Derek Fisher. Davis, pumped up at this point, yells out: “Good job, let’s go.’’ Kaman knocks down both free-throws.
– Davis is assertive, on the offensive end of the floor, keeping everyone involved. His steal and coast-to-coast drive before dishing an assist to Al Thornton cuts the Lakers lead to 18-15 with 4:29 left. Perhaps there is some hope for the kid brother in this game.
– Struggling to find the bottom of the net, Davis begins forcing things. A pair of turnovers leads to a Jordan Farmar dunk and a Ron Artest layup. All of a sudden, the bullies, I mean the Lakers, increase the advantage to 32-22 at the end of one.
– What is up with Boom Dizzle? He’s got a sore right foot; he made a game-time decision to play. So far, it’s looking like the wrong decision. He throws another bad crosscourt pass that Odom picks off, which leads to a fast-break layup.
– Jordan Farmar checks in, wearing a new number: 1. Farmer, whose mandate is to improve his defense, promptly steals an inbounds pass and flies in for a dunk.
– Kobe continues to torch Gordon. He goes 5-9 for the quarter, 13 points. Davis switches over to guard him.
– Beautiful ball movement as Artest scores inside. It’s 32-19; the Lakers have hit the Clippers with a good bit of energy and forced 9 turnovers.
– Craig Smith takes over for the Clippers. And it’s a good thing because this game could have gotten ugly real fast. Smith steals the ball from Farmar and takes it the length of the court for a layup. Who needs Blake Griffin when you have Craig Smith?
– Luke Walton attempts to slow down Smith. No chance. The 6-9 and 250-plus-pound forward abuses the undersized Walton underneath and scores to cut into the deficit. Lakers fans are suddenly quiet. There’s no chants of ‘’Luuuuuuke, Luuuuuuke.”
– “Luke Walton is so bad he could be a Clipper,” Sean notes. Watching Smith score yet again, I conclude that Smith is so good, he could be a Laker. At the very least, he could take Adam Morrison’s place. Morrison’s locker is next to Artest’s. Who dreamed that one up?
– DJ Mbenga checks in and throws up two bad shots from within 13 feet. Gasol’s job appears safe for now.
– Shannon Brown flaunts his speed on an end-to-end dash that ends with two free throws. Brown gives the Lakers the type of energy off the bench that could make him the heir apparent to fan fave Trevor Ariza, who’s playing in Portland tonight, and having about as good a shooting night as Artest, who’s now 1-5.
– Sasha Vujacic enters the game, sans the long hair that made him, at the very least, very identifiable. Now, his hair’s so short he looks like a college freshman, and he’s playing with about as much confidence. The Machine is in need of heavy repair.
– Josh Powell takes a shot at Smith. No chance. Powell might be slightly bigger than Walton, but Smith still has his way, scoring on a layup. The Clippers trail 40-35 at this point.
– A funny thing has happened on the way to a Lakers rout: The Clippers bench, led by Smith, Sebastian Telfair, and Rasual Butler, is whipping the Lakers reserves, slicing a 15 point lead to 3.
– Now, it’s Andrew Bynum’s turn. Smith is unfazed and floats in a runner over the 7-footer. Smith ends up scoring 8 points in his first 6 minutes on the floor and finishes the first half with 12 points on 6-8 shooting to go along with 3 rebounds.
– Bryant returns to the court after an extended rest and the Clippers have no answer. Davis tries. Gordon tries. Nothing works. Bryant starts a fast break, getting the ball ahead to Lamar Odom, who finds Bynum underneath the basket for a layup and a 59-49 lead at intermission. After losing the momentum with Smith in the lineup, the Clippers are crushed heading into the break.
– Play of the game so far: Kobe steals a pass, whips an outlet downcourt to Odom, who floats the ball lazily up in the air like a balloon, as Bynum grabs it and makes that layup. Seventeen at the half for Bynum and Kobe.
– Davis, mired in a shooting slump from start to finish, throws up an air-ball to open the quarter. Not good. He finishes 1-10 for 2 points with 8 assists.
– You know those Northwestern pilots who overshot the Minneapolis airport by 150 miles? BD’s airball was worse. I’m surprised they’re not playing “Brick House” every time he hoists one up.
– Kaman picks up the slack. He scores a pair of baskets and the Clippers trail 62-55 at the 9:29 mark. When all is said and done, he totals 18 points and 16 rebounds.
– Camby hit one of his patented mid-range jumpers. Gordon scores on a layup and Camby adds one of his own. Gordon gets his feet set and buries a three-pointer to make it a 76-73 game with 48 ticks left on the third quarter clock. Camby follows with a dunk to make it a one-point game, and fortunately for big brother, his three-pointer at the buzzer just misses.
– Lakers shoot 5-18 in the quarter. With Gasol out and Artest almost invisible, the Lakers appear to be missing that adrenaline shot of energy off the bench. The kind of infusion they used to get from Ariza. Not that he’s doing much better; the Rockets are losing in Portland.
– A heartwarming moment as former Lakers legend Tex Winter, the architect of the triangle offense, is presented with a championship ring by David Stern. Winter is recovering from a stroke, but he looks alert and happy to be here. As he walks slowly off the court, escorted by three Laker Girls, Winter looks more like Hugh Hefner.
– The Clippers look like they mean business. Shannon Brown goes up for a breakaway dunk and Kaman makes him pay, fouling him in mid-air. Guess turnabout is fair play, considering the Lakers have been beating up on the Clippers for what seems like an eternity.
– The Clippers have a hopeful look in their eyes, like they can steal this game. After Brown shares some glares with a hard-fouling Kaman, you get the sense that this is what the Hallway Rivalry could look like – if it ever became a rivalry.
– With Kobe on the bench and the Clips still hanging around, Lamar Odom restores some order. Five quick points, along with Odom’s trademark emotion, get the Lakers – and the crowd – stirred up. When L.O. gets fiery, the Lakers are a different team.
– Here comes Kobe. It was just a matter of time before big brother restored some order around here. Bryant scores on a tough layup, leaving Rasual Butler scratching his head, and then converts the three-point play. The Clippers subsequently fall behind, 92-79.
– Kobe steals the ball from Gordon and finds Artest for another three-point play and a 15-point lead with 4:44 left in the game. For all intents and purposes, it’s game over. And two minutes later, fans start heading for the parking lot.
– Gordon finishes with a team-high 21 points.
– Bryant finished with a game-high 33, and Bynum is right behind with 26, as well as an all-important 13 boards, 6 off the offensive glass. All on his 22nd birthday.
– All the Lakers have to do is go 72-9 from here on out and they’ll break the Bulls’ record.
– Mike Dunleavy: “The Lakers are World Champions for a reason. They’re a terrific team. Taking them on any night is a tough challenge. We stayed in the game for a while but they do so many things well that it makes it hard in the long run. We played hard all the way through. We didn’t fold.”
– On Blake Griffin: “We could have used his athleticism tonight, no doubt about it. He’ll be back though. We’re counting on him coming back healthy.’’
– Baron Davis: “We really felt like we could have won this game tonight. We thought it was going to be a different ballgame. The Lakers are a tough team. They’re a World Championship-caliber team. This is a good measuring stick. Our margin for error against the best team is small. You saw that tonight.”
– Craig Smith: “I felt good, real good. I had a bounce in my step. I had the opportunity to show what I could do tonight. We would have liked the W but that’s a tough to do against a tough team. That’s a tough we played against.”
– Phil Jackson: I think it’s tough to play games after those kinds of ceremonies…. I think some of the energy is difficult to maintain because there is a lot of energy that’s dissipated… and this kind of re-living the last year and you’re not ready to step up and march to the tune of this season right yet. We got it back. We did okay.”
– Kobe Bryant on getting the ring: “You just play with a sense of enjoyment. That carried us for the first half. The second half we just had to get to the grind a little bit more and tough this one out. I felt like we had control of the game, even when it was a one-point game.”
– Lamar Odom on the emotion of receiving his first championship ring: “Today I realized what we accomplished and was really proud. It’s an amazing franchise to be a part of.”
– On Ron Artest: “Before Ron signed with us, I spoke to him at great length as to why he should come here. Tonight is one of those reasons why. He deserves a chance to get a ring.”
– On the difficulties of repeating as champions: “We expect every game to be tough. Because of what we accomplished, everyone wants to beat us. We embrace the combative spirit of other teams.”