Kawhi leads the way as Clippers bounce Lakers

LOS ANGELES, CA (News4usonline) – Los Angeles may be a Lakers town, but it’s rapidly becoming a city that wraps its arms around the Clippers. Opening night in the NBA between the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers underscored the tightrope allegiance that some fans have in the city when it comes to both teams.

“It’s unusual to have a game [with this build-up] in game number one, but the moment they made the schedule, it was almost positioned like a prized-fight in a way,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “No matter how much franking I tried to do, once the game started, it was all thrown out of the window for the most part. What I saw in our team was just overall team toughness. They hit us with a punch to start, but we just kept moving forward. We took it and kept playing. I thought our ball pressure changed the game for us.”

All the drama, hype and microscopic views into the Clippers and Lakers this offseason has been all about the four of the best players in the league who are now occupying space with the respective ballclubs. The Lakers quickly became the envy of the NBA when they paired Anthony Davis with LeBron James. The Clippers did one better than their crosstown rivals by snagging both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Minus George, who is reportedly rehabbing from the two shoulder surgeries he had in the offseason, the Clippers Walked into Staples Center with their Big One to face off against the Lakers Big Two in James and Davis. The Staples Center crowd was so loud at times it was difficult to know which side was being more celebrated with applause.

Lou Williams scored 21 points in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 112-102 win against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Photo by Mark Hammond for News4usonline

Since it was their home game, Leonard and the Clippers received the more thunderous cheering after pulling off a 112-102 win.

The Clippers managed to outduel the Lakers for a couple of reasons. One, they had the reigning NBA Finals MVP in Leonard (30 points) on their side. The second and most important reason is that the Clippers went to work in stifling James and the Lakers in the fourth and final period. The Clippers held the Lakers to just 17 points in the fourth quarter.

And when the game was at its most critical juncture, the Clippers buckled down even harder defensively to put away the Lakers.

After a Jared Dudley 3-point pointer brought the Lakers within two (92-90) with 8: 19 remaining in the game, the Clippers forced the Lakers into turnovers on four of their next five possessions. While the Lakers were stumbling and bumbling over themselves, the Clippers quietly snatched the momentum back, building a 103-92 lead. And that was your ballgame.

“We’re so focused on us right now and the things we need to get better at,” said Clippers guard Patrick Beverley. “We just try to defend the best way we can, whether it’s post-ups, pick-and-rolls or close-outs. We made some mistakes out there, but we have a lot of room for improvement.”

The Clippers also did a number on James. While they left Leonard’s former Toronto Raptors teammate Danny Green open enough to generate a team-high 28 points for the Lakers, the Clippers, using multiple looks and defenders throughout the game, put a muzzle on James. The Clippers limited the Lakers superstar to just 18 points on 7 of 19 shooting from the floor.

Montrezl Harrell throws down this dunk against the Lakers during the opening night of the NBA. The Clippers prevailed with a 112-102 win at Staples Center. Photo by Mark Hammond for News4usonline

“I was just trying to play basketball, just trying to win the game,” Green said afterward. “Find the shots, if you hit one, hit some more. We weren’t able to create a spark to get back into the game. We wanted to get back into the game, to create a rhythm. I worry about the defense and hope the offense comes.”

James blames his tough night on lack of ball movement. However, he did give the Clippers some props for the way they played defense.

“At times we got [stagnant], but at times we got great shots,” James said. “[Troy Daniels] had a great off the dribble penetration, Quinn [Cook] had a couple of looks in the fourth quarter that didn’t go in. We had great looks, they just didn’t go in. It is easy to point it where we [almost scored]…but we had some dribble penetrations and some good kick-outs that just didn’t go for us. We’re always a pass-first team. We want to get whoever is open a great look, but [but they just didn’t go in tonight].”

The Lakers thought they would come in and bushwhack the Clippers with an early scoring blitz that found the home team on the back end of a 13-2 deficit early in the first quarter. By the way that they were playing, LeBron James and the Lakers appeared as though they would blow the Clippers right off the Staples Center floor.

The Clippers changed that quick and in a hurry. Rivers and his coaching staff inserted Lou Williams into the game to get some instant scoring punch. The reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year, came through like he always does, dropping 13 first-half points on the Lakers. Williams supplemented Leonard’s 30 points with 21 of his own for the night.

By the time the Lakers knew what hit them, the Clippers had worked their way out of their early scoring funk to come back and take a 62-54 halftime lead.

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