After an offseason that saw the NBA go through as much change as we have seen in years,
Round 1 of the Battle of LA well and truly lived up to the preseason hype as the LA Clippers started off their regular season with a 112-102 win on opening night over their hometown rivals the LA Lakers. Not only was this the first of many future encounters between these two sides, it was also a clear reminder that both teams are clearly title contenders this season.
Kawhi Leonard picked up right where he left off in the finals by leading all scorers with an immense 30 points. He then added 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block to make it a strong debut for his hometown team. The reigning finals MVP was instrumental in bringing his team back into the game after Anthony Davis and the Lakers came out of the blocks early. His 16 points in the second quarter lead a Clippers surge to a halftime lead, before he added another seven in the final quarter to help his team pull away for the win. After being booed early in the first quarter, ‘the claw’ certainly reminded Laker fans why they wanted him in the purple and gold in the first place.
The Clippers depth and versatility this season was highlighted as they started to pull away late in the first half. The Clippers Bench outscored the Lakers 60-19, with all four reserves hitting double digits (including 21 points from reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams) They showcased the same physical, make every play count attitude that helped the Clippers take the Warriors to six games in the Playoffs earlier this year. It’s scary how good this defence already is, even without 4 time all-defensive player Paul George, who will likely return mid-November.
On the other side of the floor, the Lakers start was impressive with Anthony Davis putting up 18 points in the first half alone, finishing with 25 points. His enduring effort to get to the free throw line helped take some pressure and nerves off the rest of the team. Lebron James was there to pick up where his partner in crime couldn’t by playing his typical point-forward style, in the opening half Lebron finished with 14 points, 4 rebounds and four assists, finishing the game two assists and a rebound shy of a triple double.
However, the Lakers offense seemed to falter as soon as the Clippers started to put the pressure on. The Clippers strong defence inside the paint forced the two Lakers big men to settle for a bunch of jumpers, which did not end well. Davis and James finished with a combined 43 points off 40 shots which was never going to be a winning statistic. To highlight how inefficient LBJ was, he hasn’t shot less than fifty percent from the field in a regular season game since 2009. A glaring stat for a man who has played close to a thousand games in the last 10 years.
However, by the end of the third, the Lakers were back in it behind Danny Green who balled out in the third quarter. His sixth 3 pointer in the third capped off a big Lakers run that showed good signs for the rest of the season. A lot has been said about AD and Lebron so far this off-season and I believe that number 14 has been lost a little bit in the mix. His twenty eight point game passed Kareem as the most ever for a Lakers debut. A certain dark horse most improved player candidate.
After 35 years, the Battle of LA has never been more real. For the first time in many years, here is a strong chance that the finals will run through Staples Centre.
Let’s hope that the sequels are just as good as the original!