The LA Clippers began their 2020-21 campaign with a big win, taking down the rival Los Angeles Lakers on opening night by a final tally of 116-109.
It was the Clippers' first victory over the Lakers since Christmas Day 2019, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Given all the changes this team has undergone since it was eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, there's hardly a better way for LA to begin the season than with a statement win over the defending champions.
The Clippers got off to a hot start in the first quarter, leading by as many as 22 points and scoring 39 on 70% shooting while holding the Lakers to just 19. It wasn't just one player that was putting on a clinic, either — LA played efficient, team basketball in the opening frame, assisting on nine of its 14 field goals and sinking five of its first 10 three-point attempts.
The game flow changed significantly in the second quarter, as the Clippers connected on just seven field goal attempts and committed as many turnovers. The Lakers, on the other hand, poured in 35 points and almost completely evaporated LA's big lead.
It was clear that adjustments needed to be made in the second half. The Clippers spent far too many possessions in isolation in the second quarter, and the team had seemingly gotten away from the plan it had executed so well in the first frame.
This would be Ty Lue's first true test, and he passed with flying colors. The Clippers traded buckets with the Lakers early in the third, but consistency and communication helped them build their lead back as high as 17 before they ultimately came away with a seven-point victory.
It wasn't a perfect game, but the Clippers did lead wire-to-wire and played some impressive basketball. Time will tell if this will be the norm for this team, but it's hard not to like the opening night effort.
Here are a few more things we gleaned from LA's big night.
Paul George Sets Off On Redemption Tour
After a disappointing performance in the 2020 Playoffs, all eyes were on Paul George as he entered his second season with the LA Clippers. The two-way star had failed to deliver on the biggest stage, and after agreeing to a lucrative contract extension with the Clippers for the next several years, the pressure to perform had never been higher.
Fortunately for the Clippers, George silenced his critics with a stellar performance on opening night.
Looking as dialed-in as ever, George scored a game-high 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the field (5-of-8 from three) and added six rebounds, three assists and a steal to round out his performance. He was at his best in the second half, when he scored 26 of his 33 points and went 10-of-12 from the floor and 4-of-5 from deep.
One dominant stretch at the end of the third quarter stands out as the true highlight of the night.
With less than two minutes to play in the frame and the Clippers nursing a three-point lead, George embarked on a personal 10-2 run to put his team up 89-78 as they entered the game's final quarter. He scored LA's first bucket of the fourth as well, capping off a stretch where he scored 12 consecutive points for the team.
"When one person does great, we all do great," Lue said of George's performance after the game. "That's our motto for this season. When somebody does well, we want to be there, and when somebody doing bad, we want to be there... PG just had an overall phenomenal, great game."
George will face another challenge when the Clippers square-off with the Denver Nuggets on Christmas Day.
Serge Ibaka Impresses in Debut
The LA Clippers pulled off one of the most underrated moves of the offseason by picking up Serge Ibaka via free agency, and it's already paying dividends.
The seven-footer had an efficient debut, logging 15 points, six rebounds and a block in roughly 21 minutes of action. He had an above-average shooting night as well, sinking five of his seven attempts from the field and two of three from beyond the arc.
His impact on the offensive end particularly can't be understated. Inserting a true seven-footer that spaces the floor as well as Ibaka does will work wonders for LA's offense in time, and it feels like Lue has hardly scratched the surface of unlocking his potential alongside George and Kawhi Leonard.
It's also refreshing that the Clippers finally have two big men who are capable rim protectors in Ibaka and Ivica Zubac, who will be splitting duties at the five throughout the season. Ibaka may be the more intimidating presence given his history as a shot-blocker, but statistically speaking, Zu was one of the best bigs in the league at limiting opponents at the basket last season.
There will still be nights when the Clippers struggle to protect the paint, but Ibaka already appears to be a better fit for this team than Montrezl Harrell was in more ways than one.
Luke Kennard Will Excel in Time
Don't let the box score fool you — Luke Kennard had a solid debut for the Clippers on Tuesday night.
Yes, he was passive around the perimeter. Yes, he needs to be more confident in his shot. But it's important to give him some slack here, too. Before his Clippers debut, Kennard hadn't played in an NBA game since December 21, 2019. It may take some time for him to find a rhythm offensively, and fans need to be patient with him.
That said, it should already be evident that Kennard has another level to his game that wasn't present in Landry Shamet, and that's his playmaking.
Kennard looked good as a secondary ball-handler off the bench, moving the ball around with urgency and setting up his teammates with good looks. He did a nice job penetrating as well and had no issue getting into the paint for easy scoring opportunities.
Along with Lou Williams and Zubac, Kennard will help round out a second unit that features more than a few reliable offensive weapons.