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LOS ANGELES: Chris Paul and the Clippers maintained a grip on top billing in Los Angeles with a tense 107-102 victory over the Lakers yesterday to cement their status as the city’s best team.
Paul withstood a fierce challenge from Kobe Bryant, recording 30 points and 13 assists to Bryant’s 38 points, and the Clippers moved further ahead in both the standings and the crosstown rivalry.
“It’s a big win because it’s a division game,” Paul told reporters, after he carried the scoring load in the absence of injured reserve Jamal Crawford (sore foot).
The Lakers did their best to tear up the script late on by climbing out of a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter and closing to 99-97 with two minutes remaining.
However, Paul shut the door on the Lakers, scoring the final eight points for his team, including a tough step-back jumper over the outstretched Bryant in the waning moments.
Despite sharing the Staples Center, the teams have had little else in common this season as the Clippers (26-8) have raced toward the top of the West while the Lakers are struggling to find an identity under new coach Mike D’Antoni.
The team is just 10-12 since D’Antoni took over.
“It’s going to take time and we don’t have a lot of it,” said Lakers point guard Steve Nash, who finished with 12 points and 10 assists.
“You just stick with it,” he added,
The Clippers quickly regained their form and grabbed a 10-point halftime lead on the Lakers.
After the lead swelled to 19 early in the fourth, the Lakers chipped away behind Bryant, who delivered 16 points in the final quarter, to raise the stakes in his duel with Paul.
The two All Stars traded shots all night, but the Clippers point guard got the final say with a critical jumper and six free throws over the last minute.