Paul George's Hot Hand Pushes Clippers Over Lakers in Season Opener

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Listen, if last season proved anything, it’s not to overreact to opening night or even the regular season. For the second year in a row, the Clippers defeated the Lakers in the teams’ first game, riding a hot night from Paul George to a 116–109 win. The Clips raced out to a big lead in the first half before the Lakers closed the gap. But George was too good down the stretch, and the Lakers never really threatened in the final few minutes. With the caveat that this regular season is going to be one of the strangest in NBA history—yes, even after the last one—and that things can change immensely between now and whenever the playoffs happen, here are three thoughts on the first Clippers-Lakers matchup of the season.

LA Clippers guard Paul George (13) drives against Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) and center Marc Gasol (14) in the second quarter at Staples Center.

The new additions had mixed results

Both teams relied heavily on their offseason additions in night one. Here are some very brief first impressions on some of those players.

—Dennis Schröder started at point guard and put up a near triple double in 28 minutes of action. Schröder recorded 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in his Lakers debut. Though he wasn’t always effective—his energy can sometimes be a double-edged sword—it is clear to see what kind of role he can serve for the Lakers this season. His ball-handling should give LeBron less of a burden on offense, and his on-ball defense will have value against opposing guards. Overall, it was a solid start.

—Serge Ibaka started at center for the Clips, though he played fewer minutes than backup Ivica Zubac. (Zubac, it should be noted, was a plus-17 compared to Ibaka’s minus-8.) Ibaka’s offense was solid, but I’m most intrigued about what he can do defensively. Ibaka allows the Clippers to switch Anthony Davis-LeBron James pick and rolls when he’s matched up with AD. Ibaka isn’t someone who can guard Bron full time, but that’s a nice wrinkle for the Clips to have in their back pocket in a potential playoff series (gulp), and something they wouldn’t really want to do with Montrezl Harrell.

—Speaking of Harrell, he came off the bench and played a team-leading 32 minutes, putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds. He’s a natural fit with Schröder, and because of Marc Gasol’s foul trouble, he played early minutes alongside AD. The Laker version of Harrell was more or less the Clipper version. It was unsurprising to see his old teammates repeatedly challenge him defensively.

—Nic Batum started in place of Marcus Morris and played a way bigger role than anyone imagined. Meanwhile, Gasol and Wes Matthews didn’t really have a big impact for the Lakers. Gasol started but was held to only 12 minutes because of all his fouling. I like the space Gasol offers on offense, he gave LeBron some room on drives Tuesday. But his type of defensive skill doesn’t really replace what Dwight Howard brought this team last season. Concern is too strong of a word to attach to a vet like Gasol, but his minutes deserve monitoring after how he struggled in the bubble.

Get used to big rotations

The Clippers had nine guys play at least 20 minutes in the opener. Meanwhile, the Lakers had 11 guys play at least 10 minutes. LeBron played only 28, and Davis 31. The Clips, who had an extra month off, pushed both Kawhi and PG to 34 and 36, respectively. This could be the new normal in the NBA as teams deal with the short layoff coming off the bubble. Limiting LeBron and AD obviously makes a ton of sense for the Lakers. This regular season is going to be about survival. I don’t imagine Frank Vogel is going to be as aggressive as he was last season when the Lakers were on a mission to secure that No. 1 seed. Vogel could have brought in James earlier in the fourth to stave off a Clips run but prioritized his body instead. Depth is going to be more important than ever for veteran-laden squads headed into 2021.

Be happy for Paul George

If anyone needed a big night Tuesday, it was Paul George. He poured in 33 on 13-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-8 from three. George bore the brunt of the Clips’ criticism after their Orlando playoff exit. One regular season game won’t repair his reputation—just watch the grilling he got from the TNT crew in the postgame—but PG needed a win, however small in the grand scheme of things. George said he was in a great place both physically and mentally Tuesday night—alluding to the difficulties he had in the isolation of the bubble. The league and we as fans are better off when PG is firing on all cylinders. Two seasons ago, he was an MVP candidate with the Thunder. If his health and mindset allow him to maintain that form moving forward, everybody wins.