It probably wasn’t what the fans came to see, not with so many stars sitting out the exhibition between the Clippers and Lakers on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
But the sellout crowd of 19,060 still was treated to a game that grew more intense as the encounter wore on, an indication that this really wasn’t just another exhibition that the Clippers and Lakers played.
Eric Bledsoe did his part to help the Clippers pull out a 97-91 victory in a Clippers home game.
Bledsoe nearly had a triple-double with 22 points, 11 assists and nine steals.
Matt Barnes had 18 points and Blake Griffin had 15 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Clippers.
Lakers Coach Mike Brown put Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace back into the game with 5 minutes 55 seconds left, perhaps a sign Brown didn’t want to see his team remain winless (0-7) in the exhibition season.
Gasol led the Lakers with 17 points and eight rebounds.
But after the Lakers pulled to within 87-86 on a Steve Blake three-point shot, the Clippers took over.
They went on an 8-2 run to improve to 4-3 despite missing key players.
Bledsoe started the run with two free throws and he also threw a lob pass that DeAndre Jordan dunked for a 97-89 lead.
Clippers guards Chris Paul (sore right thigh) and Jamal Crawford (rest) didn’t play.
Bledsoe started in place of Paul, playing a solid all-around game and making seven of 18 shots.
“I knew I was going to play a lot, especially with Chris and Jamal not playing,” said Bledsoe, who played 44 minutes. “So I just came prepared. Chris and my teammates told me I was close to a triple-double. But I was just trying to play solid.”
Kobe Bryant didn’t play because of a strained and bruised right foot suffered during a game Sunday night. Bryant also will not play Thursday night when the Lakers play the Sacramento Kings in San Diego.
Lakers center Dwight Howard also didn’t play, taking the night off to recover from his first game played since April.
Jordan Hill, who had not played since the first exhibition because of a herniated disk, played for the Lakers.
Jodie Meeks, who started in place of Bryant, had 11 points. Robert Sacre, who started at center in place of Howard, continued to make a strong case to make the team. Sacre had 13 points and seven rebounds.
“Of course there’s going to be that intercity thing and down-the-hallway thing,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But we play each other four times during the year and there’s a lot of other basketball to be played beside between us.
“Of course, there’s heightened expectations because of the situation but we’re just concerned about our improvement every day and how we go about things.”
Of course, the Clippers had their share of highlight moments.
There was the time when Griffin made a 360-degree move around World Peace, scoring while being fouled by Gasol. Griffin made the free throw to complete the three-point play in the first quarter.
Then there was the time when Bledsoe threw a lob pass that Jordan turned into a reverse dunk in the second quarter.
Bledsoe and Jordan hooked up again late in the second, with the point guard throwing a no-look lob pass that the center threw down for yet another exciting dunk.
That gave the Clippers a 49-40 halftime lead.
“I think with some of the big names sitting out, it kind of loses a little bit of its sting,” Barnes said. “But I just think it took a little while for everything to get going. Once we did, the tempo was in our favor.”