Clippers zap Lakers


By BETH HARRIS

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul held up the red T-shirt reading ‘Can’t Stop Los Angeles’ for a quick post-game photo. He didn’t put it on, and neither did his Clippers teammates.

There was no celebrating on court or in the locker room after they beat the Lakers 109-95 on Sunday to clinch the Clippers’ first Pacific Division title in franchise history against a team that has long overshadowed them.

“It just feels like something we were supposed to do,” said Paul, who had 24 points and 12 assists. “It means we’re headed in the right direction. We’re not satisfied. We understand this is something small compared to the big picture.”

Blake Griffin had 24 points and 12 rebounds as the playoff-bound Clippers swept the Lakers 4-0 for the first time since Donald Sterling bought the team in 1981.

The 1974-75 team, known as the Buffalo Braves, had the franchise’s only other sweep of the Lakers.

Fans chanted, “Sweep! Sweep!” in the closing seconds.

Sterling accepted a congratulatory handshake from a fan after the game.

“It’s always good to sweep a team in your division, in the West,” said Griffin, savoring the first division title of his young career. “I’m proud of how we won the game a little bit differently. We kept up a nice tempo the whole game.”

Jamal Crawford had 20 points off the bench, DeAndre Jordan had 13 rebounds and Caron Butler scored 14 points for the Clippers, who knew that even if they lost, they could have clinched later Sunday if Utah won at Golden State.

“We didn’t want to do it that way,” Paul said. “We wanted to clinch on our own terms.”

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said, “You have to earn it and today we did.”

As the division winner, the Clippers are guaranteed a top-four seed but will only open the playoffs with home-court advantage if they finish the season with a better record than the team in fifth, which currently is Memphis.

“Hopefully, we’re playing well at the right time going to the playoffs,” Crawford said.

He chalked up winning the division title at home against the Lakers to “the basketball gods set it up that way.”

Dwight Howard scored 25 points, including 9 of 13 free throws, for the Lakers, who played without injured starters Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. Kobe Bryant added 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and Pau Gasol had 12 points and 13 rebounds as the Lakers’ three-game winning streak ended.

Playing as the home team, the Clippers dealt their Staples Center co-tenant’s playoff hopes a serious blow.

The Lakers fell into a tie with Utah for the eighth and final playoff berth in the West. If the Jazz won later, they would move a half-game ahead of the Lakers, who have five regular-season games left. The Jazz own the tiebreaker with the Lakers.

“We’ve got a bigger challenge than worrying about beating the Clippers in one game,” Bryant said. “They obviously performed extremely well against us all four times. Our concern is playing well in order to get into the playoffs, get guys healthy, and go in there and see what we can do.”

The Lakers led by seven points to start the game before the Clippers took the lead for good. The Lakers owned a two-point edge in the paint, but Clippers had more second-chance and fast-break points. They also controlled the boards, 50-36.

“They made some pretty tough shots, and they had players come in and make some big baskets under duress,” Bryant said. “They kind of kept us at bay and they would get some turnovers and get out in transition.”

The game featured three of the NBA’s top-five dunkers in Griffin, Howard and Jordan. They all got some alley-oops in, although the Clippers’ usual Lob City show didn’t emerge in force until the fourth.

That’s when Paul fed Griffin on a fast break late in the game and Griffin raced in for a one-handed jam. Paul stole the ball from Howard and sped up court before flipping it to Jordan for a monster slam. Griffin got the fans on their feet with under 2 minutes to go on a put-back slam that he followed with a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock.

“That’s how we’re supposed to play,” Jordan said. “As long as we bring that type of energy from jump ball to the end of the game, we’ll be OK.”

The Lakers closed within single digits once in the fourth on a three-point play by Earl Clark. Bryant had 12 points in the fourth, including six free throws.

The Clippers stretched a seven-point halftime lead to 14 points in the third on a 3-pointer by Butler after leading 56-49 at halftime.

KNICKS 125

THUNDER 120

OKLAHOMA CITY — Carmelo Anthony had 36 points and 12 rebounds, J.R. Smith hit a pair of shot-clock beaters in the final 2 minutes and the New York Knicks beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 125-120 for their 12th straight win.

Smith connected on a 23-foot jumper from the right wing as the 24-second clock expired to put New York up 117-113 with 1:30 to play, then swished a 3-pointer from beyond the 3-point line with 56.8 seconds left that all but sealed New York’s 50th win of the season.

It’s the first time the Knicks have reached the landmark in 13 years.

Russell Westbrook had 37 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for Oklahoma City, which fell a game behind San Antonio for first place in the West with five games left.

Kevin Durant scored 27, falling behind Anthony in the NBA scoring race.

JAZZ 97, WARRIORS 90

OAKLAND, Calif. — Mo Williams scored 25 points, Al Jefferson added 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Utah regained the Western Conference’s final playoff position by holding off Golden State.

Williams made a 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds remaining to put Utah ahead by six and spoil Golden State’s shot to clinch a playoff berth in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596. The Jazz moved a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth seed.

Stephen Curry scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half and Klay Thompson had 20 points for the Warriors, who were trying to clinch a postseason spot for the first time since 2007 and just the second in 19 years.

CELTICS 107, WIZARDS 96

BOSTON — Brandon Bass scored 20 points and Boston Celtics, helped by the return of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, beat Washington.

Bass missed his season high by just two points and led the Celtics with eight points in the third quarter, when they hit 75 percent of their shots, outscored Washington 31-19 and stretched a 56-52 halftime lead to 87-71.

They led by at least 10 points the rest of the way to get just their fourth win in 12 games.

Garnett had 12 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes after missing eight games with an inflamed left ankle. Pierce finished with 15 points in 30 minutes after missing Friday night’s 97-91 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers with a sore left ankle.

PISTONS 99, BULLS 85

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Brandon Knight scored 20 points to help Detroit snap an 18-game losing streak against Chicago.

Jonas Jerebko added 17 points and a season-high nine rebounds for the Pistons, who ended an eight-game home skid.

The Bulls led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter but Detroit gradually caught up and took the lead in the second after starting the period on a 12-4 run.

Carlos Boozer had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the postseason-bound Bulls, who are fighting to secure the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

GRIZZLIES 89, KINGS 87

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Mike Conley scored 25 points, making the go-ahead basket with 30 seconds left and leading Memphis over struggling Sacramento.

Memphis made some big plays in the game’s final minute to get the victory, its fifth in six games. The win gave the Grizzlies a four-game sweep of the Kings for the first time in franchise history.

Quincey Pondexter scored 17 points and Marc Gasol had 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks for the Grizzlies. Tony Allen scored 12 points.

DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Kings, who have dropped four straight. Isaiah Thomas had 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Toney Douglas scored 14 points and Jimmer Fredette added 13.

 

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