The Lakers once again showed what a $100-million payroll could do for them — not much.
The Clippers, meanwhile, happily demonstrated what a young, fun team can do at a much more cost-effective $69 million.
The Clippers clinched the season series against the Lakers for the first time in 20 years, winning in front of a Lakers home crowd Thursday, 125-101, at Staples Center.
They were faster, stronger and wildly effective from three-point range, burying a handful of Lakers comebacks with incredible accuracy behind the arc while blowing past their season high for points.
The Clippers had won the season series only twice in their 42-year history: in 1974-75, when they were still the Buffalo Braves, and again in 1992-93. Somewhere, Danny Manning, Ken Norman and Stanley Roberts are smiling.
If another word picture was needed, unofficial mascot Clipper Darrell, dressed in a half red-half blue suit, yelled out his trademark, “Let’s go, Clippers, let’s go” shortly before Lakers fans streamed for the exits in the final minutes.
It pierced the hushed Staples Center environment with ease.
For one team, it was a perfect time for the All-Star break. The Lakers (25-29) are broken beyond recognition.
Their defense was soft from the start, surrendering 101 points through three quarters. Their fans reacted accordingly, filtering for the exits during a timeout with 5:09 left, the home team down by 23.
“They beat us. They kicked us,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We just played helter-skelter.”
Blake Griffin threw the Clippers out of the gate with a fiery first quarter, and Chris Paul was the finisher, supplying 24 points and 13 assists. Chauncey Billups had 21 points, making five of seven attempts from three-point range.
At one point in the first quarter, Griffin had 18 points and five rebounds while Dwight Howard had two points and one rebound. The Clippers (39-17) were that strong that early, in case a 15-0 lead didn’t state it subtly enough.
“Of course it’s another game, but it is the Laker game,” Billups said of winning the season series. “And I think that we have a really fun rivalry with that team and it’s a division opponent. For us, we had beat them twice already with a chance to win the series against them makes it a bigger game than usual.”
The Clippers were surreal behind the arc, making 16 of 30 three-point attempts (53%). The Lakers made six of 20.
The Lakers briefly were in the game in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 47-44. But then Paul and Billups scored all the Clippers’ points in a 14-3 run to break it open again.
Kobe Bryant was determined on offense, though his 20 points and 11 assists were balanced somewhat by six turnovers. Antawn Jamison had 17 points off the bench.
After that, there were only oddities and head-scratchers for the Lakers.
First example: Steve Blake missed all three free-throw attempts after being fouled in the fourth quarter.
Second example: Howard had 18 points and eight rebounds but said he would take an athletic trainer with him for All-Star weekend.
For his back? His aching shoulder? Neither.
“Trying to get into better shape…for the second half of the season,” he said.
D’Antoni was in big-picture mode before the game, talking about the struggles of a franchise that was supposed to encounter little resistance from the Western Conference, let alone the Clippers, on the way to a 17th championship.
“I thought we’d be a lot better. We’ve had to go through a lot of turmoil on and off the court, it seems like, that we had to get through,” he said.
Apparently there’s still some more. The Clippers lead the season series, 3-0. Who knows what the Lakers will look like when they play them again in April?
“We’re not where we wanted to be,” Howard said. “But we’ve still got an opportunity to change things and we have to stay positive. The first half of the season is behind us now. We can’t look back.”