Needing just 53 points to reach 20,000 for his career, O’Neal fell nine points shy despite a dominant performance. He made 15-of-24 shots and 12-of-14 free throws and eclipsed his previous season high by two points.
“I was looking in the paper and saw I needed 53 points to reach the 20 grand mark,” O’Neal said. “I was actually trying to get to get to that point tonight. I’d rather just get it out of the way.”
The All-Star center likely will reach the mark on Thursday, when the Lakers conclude their six-game road trip at Sacramento in a rematch of the Western Conference finals.
“I’ll just have to get it against my favorite team,” O’Neal joked. “I wanted to do it here in LA, so I wouldn’t be thinking about it.”
The Clippers led most of the first half and had a 66-60 edge with three minutes left in the third quarter. But the Lakers responded with an 18-4 run, highlighted by eight points from O’Neal.
Bryant scored the Lakers’ first six points in the fourth quarter and rookie Kareem Rush capped the burst with a dunk for a 78-70 lead with 9:01 remaining.
The Clippers pulled within 85-80 with 5:10 to play, but the Lakers closed with a 17-5 run, sparked by the dominance of O’Neal, who scored 11 points in the final 4 1/2 minutes.
O’Neal also collected seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks as the Lakers won for the 11th time in 14 games.
The Lakers shot 51 percent (37-of-73) from the floor and made 24-of-32 free throws. They moved within 3 1/2 games of fifth-place Minnesota in the Western Conference.
Andre Miller scored 15 points to lead six players in double figures for the Clippers, who have lost the last five meetings with their crosstown rivals.
“I am very proud of the way our guys played tonight,” Clippers coach Dennis Johnson said. “Whether they hit their shots or not, they played hard until the end and they didn’t let their guard down.”
Rookie Chris Wilcox got the unenviable task of trying to guard the NBA’s most unstoppable player.
“It was an eye-opening experience going against Shaquille,” Wilcox said. “He’s a man against boys out there. My first time but hopefully, not my last. He made it look like nothing scoring 40 points.”
Piatkowski had eight points in the first quarter as the Clippers jumped out to a 29-23 lead. The Lakers made just 3-of-15 shots in the second and the Clippers had their largest lead at 40-26 on a jumper by Odom with 3:19 remaining.
The Lakers scored nine of the final 12 points in the period to pull within 43-35 at halftime.
“In the first half, we came out sort of lackadaisical,” O’Neal said. “We took them a little more seriously (in the second half).”