Paul George wants to make amends with the Los Angeles Clippers fan base for his infamous flameout against the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the NBA playoffs. During training camp, George didn’t feel like he was his best when the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets before being bounced out of the postseason by Denver in a seven-game series.
“I’m my toughest critic,” George said at the beginning of the Clippers’ training camp. “At the end of the day, I know what’s not good and what’s not acceptable. Last year was not an unacceptable year for me, and I know that. I had an offseason to train. I didn’t have an offseason last year going into a season. I got my offseason back this year going into this season, so I feel really good. I’m in a great place. I’ve been working hard. You know…just putting a lot of hours in and working on my body and being in the gym.”
Whatever way George critiqued himself in the offseason seemed to have worked in his favor. The Palmdale native received a multi-year extension on his contract. He’s healthy. And he’s looking to prove that he’s still that guy.
The Los Angeles Lakers probably won’t have any squabble with that assessment after George dropped 33 points on them in both team’s season opener at STAPLES Center.
“Just being assertive, being aggressive,” Paul said.
Behind George’s big night and Kawhi Leonard’s 26 points, the Clippers officially canceled out the Lakers’ celebratory night as they were honored with their championship rings with a 116-109 win.
“I’m just happy we kept playing basketball the right way,” said Leonard. “Even if we had lost the game, the lead, we turned around, we stayed positive. We kept playing our basketball pretty much. We ran our offense, and that’s what you know, I take pride in tonight; that everybody had each other’s back and [were] speaking positive. We kept communicating on the floor and we pushed out a win.”
While the Lakers were too focused on celebrating their gaudy championship rings, there was an NBA game actually played inside STAPLES Center for the first time since March. On the other side of that spectrum was the Los Angeles Clippers, who had to watch the Lakers receive their rings for winning the NBA title against the Miami Heat back in October.
If walls could talk. In this instance, if the floor could talk, fans could hear all of the chatter going on between these two teams. You see, there is no good relationship between the two city rivals. And there shouldn’t be. As a franchise, the Lakers have won 17 NBA championships and is a team usually considered to the gold standard in the league.
On the other hand, the Clippers are still a team on the come up, in regards to league-wide respect. Unlike the Lakers, the Clippers have no titles to brag about. Last season, though, before everything went haywire due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clippers with their two superstars in George and Leonard, were thought to be frontrunners to the crown.
Obviously, those aspirations failed to materialize after the Clippers got bounced out of the NBA playoffs in the second round after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers parted ways with head coach Doc Rivers after that. George, Leonard and the rest of the Clippers had to go through an offseason being ridiculed as that other basketball team in Los Angeles not named the Lakers.
“We’re not thinking about last year,” Leonard said. “This is a different team.”
Of course, that embarrassment had to stick in the Clippers’ craw. The team hired Tyronn Lue as the new head coach to try to move in a different direction. Lue’s first task at hand is to beat the Lakers. An interesting dynamic here is that Lue interviewed for the Lakers head coaching vacancy before the team handed the job to Frank Vogel prior to the 2019-20 season.
In his first season inheriting Lebron James and Anthony Davis, Vogel, like Lue, is an NBA champion head coach. So it would be fitting that the NBA season kicked off its 2020-21 season by pairing the Clippers against the Lakers. This matchup worked out well for Lue and the Clippers.
That’s because while the Lakers were immersed in their revelry, the Clippers came out focused and played basketball to the tune of scoring 39 points in the first quarter of an eventual 116-109 win against the Lakers. The Lakers scored 19 points in the period and were down 20 points at the end of the quarter before they knew what hit them.
For Lue, getting win No. 1 as the Clippers head coach and doing it against the NBA champs and the team’s crosstown rivals feels pretty darn good.
“It feels great,” Lue said. Any time that you win it’s great, especially in this league with all the tough teams that there is in this league. Any time you can get a win it feels great. But to come game one with my first time coaching this team and play against a great team like the Lakers and get a win, it’s a great feeling.”