Kobe Bryant hit four of six free throws in the final 21 seconds as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied in the fourth quarter during a bad-tempered 96-91 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Bryant finished with 24 points and six assists and Pau Gasol had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers who won despite being held to under 100 points for the 12th consecutive game.
"We played with great effort and great physicality," Bryant said. "Everybody had the right attitude. Pau was the Pau of old and Metta World Peace was Ron Artest again."
Asked about the physical nature of the game which led to a number of shoving matches and the expulsion of Lakers forward Josh McRoberts in the fourth quarter, Bryant said he helped set the tone against their Los Angeles rivals.
"That is because of the two leaders of each team," Bryant said. "(Chris) Paul is chippy and I am extremely chippy and that DNA spreads to the rest of the players."
Paul looked rusty in his first contest back after missing five games with a hamstring injury suffered in a 102-94 win over the Lakers on January 14.
The all-star guard finished with a game-high 12 assists but had just four points on two-of-eight shooting for the Clippers who were facing the Lakers for just the second time this season.
"I felt good," Paul said. "I wish we had gone to overtime."
Blake Griffin had 26 points and nine rebounds and Caron Butler and Mo Williams each scored 16 points for the Clippers who led for the majority of the game but had trouble executing down the stretch in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,997.
"A frustrating loss," said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro.
The Lakers, long-regarded as the better of the NBA's two southern California clubs, have now won nine consecutive games over the Clippers when they have been designated as the home team.
The Clippers were officially the visitors on Wednesday despite playing in the Staples Center arena which both teams share.
The Clippers came out with plenty of spark, jumping out to a 10-point lead halfway through the first quarter after Chauncey Billups scored on a layup.
Forward Ryan Gomes closed out the scoring in the first quarter with a finger roll layup to give the Clippers a slim 27-25 lead.
The Lakers fought back in a combative first half as players from both teams came together at one point in the second quarter after Clippers' Reggie Evans was knocked to the ground under the basket.
The Clippers led 51-49 at halftime after Lakers guard Derek Fisher drained a 25 foot, three pointer with 8.4 seconds left to cut the Clippers' lead to two, 51-49.
Tempers again frayed halfway through the third quarter when Metta World Peace, the Lakers forward formerly known as Ron Artest, tried to strip the ball away from Griffin at centre court and ended up wrestling Griffin to the ground.
Artest drew a crowd as once again the players from both teams rushed to the defence of their teammates.
Lakers McRoberts was thrown out of the game with just under 10 minutes left after he received a technical foul for making contact with Evans under the basket.
"It is always going to be chippy," Clippers DeAndre Jordan said of the rivalry. "I am just out there trying to protect my teammates. We are a family out there so we are not going to let anyone try to run over us."
Source: AFP Global Edition