Just one night after hammering the Minnesota Timberwolves by 23 points at home, the LA Clippers took the floor on Wednesday and had a repeat performance against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Clippers, winners by a final of 128-105, were all over the Blazers from the jump and again matched suffocating defense with an efficient offensive attack. LA led by as many as 30 points in the third quarter, and despite pulling its starters early in the fourth, the team still managed to shoot nearly 50% from both the field and from three-point range.
Both teams traded buckets for the first few minutes of the contest, and for a moment, it looked like that was how the game would play out. But a quick 9-0 run from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George put some distance between the two, and the Blazers were never able to make that ground back up. Every time Portland made a run, the Clippers would answer with a more impressive one of their own.
That resilience has been a common theme for the Clippers through their first handful of games, which is an encouraging sign given how the 2019-20 season ended. LA built double-digit leads in each of its final three games against the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, but the team didn't have an answer when the Nuggets would take the lead.
Time will tell if the Clippers can continue to keep opponents away, but for now, it's hard not to be impressed with the way they've performed in their wins.
With that, let's take a look at three takeaways from LA's win over Portland.
Masked Kawhi is Here to Stay
Kawhi Leonard made his return to the floor on Wednesday night, five days after suffering a brutal face injury against Denver. And while his game looked the same, there was something different about Leonard's appearance.
Donning a custom mask meant to protect his mouth, Leonard took the floor looking a bit like Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs." Twitter users had a field day making up nicknames for the injured star, and Leonard's own teammates were in on the joke as well.
"They started calling me Leatherface and stuff," Leonard said after the game. "But Serge [Ibaka] can't talk too much, we got him on the trading block right now. So, whoever wants him, let us know."
Leonard was obviously joking about trading Ibaka, but his deadpan delivery of the line almost made it seem believable.
As for how long it'll be until Leonard can play without the mask, he says it depends on when he can have his stitches removed. He also referred to the mask as a work in progress and talked about how difficult it was to breathe in, so perhaps we'll see a few revisions over the next few weeks.
Nicolas Batum Continues to Impress
When the LA Clippers brought in Nicolas Batum this offseason, few had high hopes about his fit and impact on the roster. He hadn't looked like a quality starter during his final years with the Charlotte Hornets, and his health concerns didn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence. The loss of JaMychal Green didn't make that easier to stomach, either.
However, Batum is looking like one of the most underrated pickups of the offseason, and the value he brings to the team on a minimum contract is impossible to understate.
The veteran forward has done a little bit of everything for the Clippers this season, averaging 7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists through his first five games. Batum has also connected on 40% of his three-point attempts thus far, making him a reliable option to look to when Leonard and/or George are in tight coverage.
On Wednesday night, he went for 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal in 26 minutes of action and logged a game-high plus/minus rating of +26. He wasn't the team's highest scorer by any means, but the Clippers played their best basketball with him on the floor.
His impact isn't always evident in the box score, though. Batum is someone you have to watch to truly appreciate. His high basketball IQ is always on display, whether he's making quick passes on the perimeter or being in the right place on defense.
Batum will eventually head to the bench once Marcus Morris Sr. can return to the lineup, but he'll remain a key piece of the rotation as long as he continues to perform this well.
Lou Williams Stays Hot
Lou Williams had a strong preseason campaign for the Clippers, but he failed to impress in LA's first three regular-season games. The veteran guard averaged just 6.3 points, and 2.3 assists in his first few appearances and only spent nine minutes on the floor in the team's 51-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
However, Williams has eliminated any cause for concern with his last two performances against Minnesota and Portland.
Williams went for 15 points, five rebounds and two assists across 20 minutes against the Blazers and 20 points, three rebounds and five assists across 20 minutes against the Timberwolves. He's shot a combined 14-of-24 from the field in those two games and committed just two turnovers.
Getting Williams going off the bench is always important, but with Montrezl Harrell leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers during the offseason, it became even more so. He's still got his fair share of weapons around him — Luke Kennard and Ivica Zubac are both valuable pieces of the rotation, and he's developed a nice chemistry with each — but it's important that Williams can still thrive in isolation.
It's hard to say which version of Williams we'll see more of this season, but he's certainly trending in the right direction.