The marquee matchup Friday night between Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul definitely didn’t disappoint, as the two most competitive people in basketball went toe-to-toe in one of the more entertaining games this season.
Paul was ever bit as feisty as Bryant. Much like Kobe, CP3 hates to lose and will do just about anything to get a win.
The two Western Conference All-Star starters guarded each other for most of the night and the outcome of the game was put in their fingertips. Bryant won his share of battles, and Paul won his share of battles. Bryant threw the first major blow when he intercepted a Paul pass in the first half and took it all the way down for an emphatic dunk over his London Olympics teammate on the other end. Paul got the last laugh, however, as he buried a dagger step-back jumper over Bryant with under two minutes that gave the Clippers a six-point cushion.
It was a similar shot Paul beat Kobe at the end of the second quarter when Paul beat the buzzer for a 10-point Clipper lead at halftime.
Paul finished with 30 points on 11-for-25 shooting and scored the Clippers’ final eight points to fend off a furious Lakers rally in the fourth quarter. He also had a game-high 13 assists to lead the Clippers to a 107-102 victory.
“He’s very smart, he’s very crafty. To his credit, he made some pretty tough shots. Superstar players will do that,” Bryant, who had a game-high 38 points and five steals, said of Paul.
Bryant carried the Lakers in the fourth quarter when they closed to 99-97 on his 23-foot jumper with 1:29 left. But Paul made sure the Clippers didn’t falter in the end, taking the game over when the Clippers went to him exclusively down the stretch.
The Lakers continue to struggle under new coach Mike D’Antoni. They’ve lost three of their last four games and drop to two games under .500.
The Clippers shot 50 percent and outscored the Lakers 52-36 in the paint.
Bryant scored 16 points in the fourth, when the Lakers rallied from 19 points down. The Clippers fouled for much of the final 5:51, and the Lakers made 10 of 12 free throws. Howard missed two foul shots but then made two to get the Lakers within four before Bryant’s jumper got the Lakers the closest they had been since early in the game.
But Paul closed with a flourish, including a 6-for-6 stretch at the line, while Bryant’s 3-pointer went in and out with 43 seconds to go.
The first three quarters were punctuated with several highlight dunks from both sides. Paul fed DeAndre Jordan and Griffin on alley-oop slams that had the sellout crowd of 20,179 roaring.
The Clippers had dropped two consecutive road games earlier in the week, when their 17-game winning streak was snapped.