LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul held up the red T-shirt reading ‘Can’t Stop Los Angeles’ for a quick postgame 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. Utah defeated the Warriors 97-90
“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.
With the Jazz’s win, they moved a half-game ahead of the ninth-place 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.
NOTES: The Clippers need one more win for the most at home in franchise history. They also had 30 in 1974-75. ... The Clippers have won the season series against the Lakers twice in franchise history, including this season. ... Clippers G Chauncey Billups missed his fifth straight game with a strained right groin. ... Nash missed his third in a row with a strained right hamstring. ... World Peace is ahead of schedule in recovering from left knee surgery and could return sooner than the six weeks he was expected to be out. ... Rihanna, Billy Crystal and Regina King attended the game.
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