LOS ANGELES (AP) – Although the Clippers were just a few seconds away from finishing off the Lakers and their seven-game winning streak, Blake Griffin and Lamar Odom refused to stop grinding and digging for one last rebound.
That competition led to a confrontation, which led to a minor shoving match, which led to a major scrum and four ejections as Los Angeles’ cross-hallway rivals put a feisty finish on a rivalry game that’s only getting more interesting.
Eric Gordon scored 30 points and Griffin had 18 points and 15 rebounds after a slow start in the Clippers’ latest stellar performance against the NBA’s elite, beating the Lakers 99-92 on Sunday.
Baron Davis had 14 points and eight assists as the surging Clippers won for the fourth time in five games. Four days after beating Miami, the Clippers trailed by 12 points late in the third quarter before making a 16-3 run to blow past the two-time defending champions.
“We have a good rivalry,” said Gordon, who scored 24 points in the Clippers’ loss to the Lakers last month on Derek Fisher’s buzzer-beating layup. “We always look forward to playing against these guys, and it’s always real interesting.”
This time around, Odom’s scuffle with Griffin and Davis with 5.7 seconds to play was the attention-grabber.
While Randy Foye made a free throw to put the Clippers ahead 99-90, Griffin slammed aggressively into Odom’s back while seeking position for a possible rebound. Odom grabbed Griffin’s jersey and verbally expressed his displeasure.
“Maybe I overreacted, but I just feel like if you’re up 9, a ram in the back at that point?” Odom asked. “Any other time, I get it. You play hard, you’re strong, whatever, but the ram in the back (while) up 9? I don’t get it, so I’m just going to have to react.”
Griffin ducked his head and tried to walk away from the confrontation. That’s when Davis shoved Odom firmly in the chest, leading to both teams circling under the hoop.
“I was just helping my teammate and being a backup,” Davis said. “People take shots at Blake, and they’ve been doing it all season. … It was just a bunch of lollygagging and arguing, but it wasn’t nothing. It was just playing tag.”
Although no punches were thrown and order was quickly restored, the officials held a conference before ejecting Odom, Griffin, Davis and Ron Artest. The decision that visibly baffled Griffin and Artest, whose offense wasn’t clear.
“I have no idea how they make their decisions – whimsically, I think,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “I can see Lamar and Griffin (getting ejected), but Ron, it was just ridiculous.”
Kobe Bryant had 27 points and nine rebounds, and Andrew Bynum added 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who couldn’t keep up with the young Clippers in the fourth quarter. While the Lakers are among the NBA’s best right now, the Clippers have one of the league’s best cores of under-25 players.
“We just didn’t put up much of a fight,” said Bryant, who scored 14 points in the third quarter while the Lakers jumped ahead. “I’m sure the next time we play them, we’ll be a little bit more ready physically to match up with them. They just took it from us. … Blake just ran through us. We didn’t have anybody that was going to put up a stand.”
Griffin broke Swen Nater’s franchise record for consecutive double-doubles a week ago, but committed three fouls in the first half against the Lakers and didn’t find a rhythm until late in the third quarter.
The rookie swiftly reached double digits in points and rebounds for the 26th straight game early in the fourth, but his streak of 14 straight games with at least 20 points ended with his first career ejection.
“Whatever happened, I didn’t say anything, I didn’t take a swing at anybody, I didn’t push anybody,” Griffin said. “When Baron came in, I grabbed him. … There’s never a situation where I’m not going to go to the glass. I would think of all people, (Odom) would know that.”
The Clippers limited Pau Gasol to 13 points and eight rebounds before he fouled out, stopping the Lakers’ roll toward their second eight-game winning streak of the season. The Lakers lost for just the second time in 11 games since Bynum returned to their starting lineup.
The Staples Center crowd largely favored the Lakers, as usual when the clubs meet in their shared arena. But the Clippers thrived in the final minutes for their ninth win in 13 games since a 5-21 start to the season.
The Clippers have played superbly against the NBA’s best teams, also beating New Orleans and San Antonio when those clubs had the league’s best record before stopping Miami.
Yet the Clippers are still stuck near the bottom of the Western Conference because of their propensity for following up big wins with awful defeats, such as last Friday’s loss to Golden State following Wednesday’s win over the Heat.
“We’re a relentless team,” Davis said. “We’ve got guys that believe in each other, and we’ve got explosive scorers. This is just another achievement for us, and we’re getting better all the time.”
Notes: The teams played a Sunday matinee because both have home games on the Monday holiday. The Clippers host Indiana in the early game, while the Lakers get a visit from Oklahoma City. … Bynum got his third technical foul in the past week late in the third quarter for arguing with referee Sean Wright. … Mariners OF Milton Bradley, a Los Angeles-area native who attended Long Beach Poly High School, watched the game from courtside. The Dodgers’ Matt Kemp sat right next to the Lakers’ bench.