NBA opening night reaction: Clippers make a statement
The Los Angeles Clippers heard all the jokes the past few months. They’ve been dragged by just about everybody for their collapse in last season’s playoffs, and they responded in a big way on the NBA’s opening night by easily beating the Los Angeles Lakers 116-109. It only got that close because of a few late meaningless Lakers buckets. It was an impressive statement victory that should put the rest of the league on notice.
Let’s break it down:
The Clippers looked hard to beat
If Tuesday night was any indication, this Clippers team is going to be very hard to beat. That’s because they just cruised by the defending champions on a night where Kawhi Leonard was far from his best. Leonard didn’t ever get into a rhythm and shot just one of eight from downtown, and the Clips still didn’t have much trouble putting them away.
The Clippers had clearly been stewing for months after their embarrassing blown 3-1 lead against the Nuggets, and it showed. They came out angry, jumping out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter. The Lakers responded, as you’d expect from a team of their caliber, and cut it to a two-point lead at halftime. A Clippers team of old might’ve wilted and rolled over at that point, but instead they took it on the chin and came right back out of halftime with a new burst of energy.
It’s not any secret that the culture last year wasn’t where it needed to be, and it looks like new head coach Ty Lue has already had a positive impact in the locker room. Speaking of statements, how about what we saw from Paul George? George has been subjected to more slander than just about any NBA star recently, and he silenced all his critics after a tough playoff run by dropping 33 points on only 18 shots Tuesday night.
If George is going to play like that this whole season, then the Clippers are the title favorites in my opinion. Offseason acquisition Nic Batum looks like he’s going to give the team the additional ball-handler they were sorely missing last year, and fellow addition Serge Ibaka played well too. The rest of the Western Conference has to be pretty nervous after watching this performance.
Kawhi Leonard 11 points 👏🏻
Clippers +110 ML looking good so far tonight 👇🏻
— Pickswise (@Pickswise) December 23, 2020
The Lakers shouldn’t panic
All that being said, I wouldn’t panic if I were a Lakers fan. A slow start was always a distinct possibility, as the Lakers dealt with the distraction of their ring ceremony before the game. As a result of their finals run and then shortened offseason, they had a very quick turnaround time to start their title defense. That put them at a big disadvantage, and I wasn’t surprised to see them lay a dud out of the gate.
There are plenty of positives to takeaway, including the aforementioned fact that they didn’t quit and came storming all the way back after falling down by 20. Dennis Schroder didn’t have a great shooting night, but he still finished with 14 points and racked up 12 rebounds and eight assists.
That was a great trade for the Lakers, and Schroder gives them the ball-handler they too desperately needed to take some of the load off LeBron James’ shoulders. Montrezl Harrell also looked like he’s going to be a big upgrade for their frontcourt, as he put up 17 & 10 while only missing one shot. It was a disappointment for sure, but nothing to get too worried about moving forward.