Since perennial All-Star point guard Chris Paul was traded to the Clippers from the New Orleans Hornets in December of 2011, the team’s nickname has been “Lob City’’ because of his ability to toss the ball at the rim and have teammates dunk it.
This past Sunday afternoon in a contest against the Lakers at a sold-out Staples Center, Paul lobbed numerous passes to power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan (four points and a co-game best 13 rebounds) as the Clippers roughed up the Lakers, 109-95, for a fourth straight time this campaign, and secured their first-ever Pacific Division title in 43 years.
“We wanted to win the division on our own terms,’’ said Paul, who finished with a co-team high 24 points, a game-best 12 assists and five rebounds. “This is just one step as far as what we’re trying to accomplish. We have bigger goals.”
The Lakers (40-37) are fighting for their playoff lives, have five games remaining and must finish ahead of the Utah Jazz in order to make the postseason.
Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant left everything on the hardwood, but it still wasn’t enough against the more athletic and younger Clippers (51-26).
“We have a bigger challenge in front of us than worrying about one loss to the Clippers,’’ said Bryant, who scored a co-game best 25 points with 10 assists and seven rebounds. “We’re trying to make the playoffs.”
The Lakers led 15-9 when point guard Steve Blake (eight points and two assists), who was starting in place of injured Steve Nash, canned a 12-footer with 5:05 left in the first quarter, but Paul’s two free throws narrowed the lead to 21-18 with 2:50 showing.
Reserve small forward Matt Barnes (12 points), who last season toiled for the Lakers, then nailed a three-pointer and a hoop that gave the Clippers (50 percent from the field on 42 of 84 shots) a 30-25 lead heading into the second quarter.
When shooting guard Jamal Crawford (20 points and three boards) came off the bench and dropped two free throws it became 38-30 with 8:42 left in the second quarter.
The Lakers (33 of 76 for 43.4 percent) responded with a surge that included Bryant’s pass to center Dwight Howard (25 points and four rebounds), who scored and converted a charity shot that got the Lakers within 47-46 as 2:39 remained, but the Clippers outscored the Lakers, 9-3, to close out the half.
“We wanted to push the pace with CP3 [Paul],’’ said Griffin, who finished with 24 points, 12 caroms and five assists before heading to the locker room.
It should be noted the Clippers, who moved to Los Angeles in 1984, outrebounded the Lakers, 50-36, and had 16 offensive boards to the Lakers 10.
Small forward Caron Butler (14 points and three rebounds) drained a three-pointer that gave the Clippers a 69-55 edge and 7:43 left in the third quarter, but Lakers power forward Antawn Jamison (eight points) put in a layup with 2:06 left that made it 78-67, before Paul’s basket pushed Lob City’s lead to 82-70 after three quarters.
A pair of free throws by Crawford with 8:44 left gave the Clippers an 88-74 lead, and it became 92-80 when Paul hit a short runner in the lane and 5:52 showing.
Bryant’s layup cut the margin to 101-90 with 2:36 left, but Griffin’s monster jam on a lob pass from Paul, and his three-pointer extended the advantage to 108-92 as 1:20 remained.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.