The National Basketball Association made its long-awaited return on Thursday night, as two of the most dominant teams in the league met in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers squared off against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Los Angeles Clippers for the fourth time this season.
The Clippers took the first two matchups between the Los Angeles teams, including a bout on Christmas Day, before the Lakers won the third meeting between the Staples Centers two tenants.
Davis played in the matchup despite doubts due to an eye injury suffered against the Orlando Magic in a scrimmage. The Lakers will play out the rest of their season without guard Avery Bradley, who opted out for health reasons among the COVID-19 pandemic. There are some new faces on the Lakers roster, though they’re familiar names to those who follow LeBron James: Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith are now on the active roster.
The Clippers played at less than full strength though: without the services of power forward Montrez Harell and Lou Williams.
— Sak Sports Blog (@SakSports) July 31, 2020
The Lakers jumped out to an early lead, with the offense being facilitated by none of other than LeBron James. Though James missed his first shot of the renewed NBA season, a three-point attempt, he assisted on each of the Lakers first four buckets. A Javale McGee hook shot, Danny Green three-pointer, and a pair of Anthony Davis buckets gave James four assists through just four minutes of play, and gave the Lakers an 11-5 lead.
Kawhi Leonard, who looked a but sluggish in the Clippers scrimmages, scored five of the Clippers first nine points, with three of them coming at the free throw line.
James checked out of the game for the first time at the 5:29 mark, exiting with McGee to make room for Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma. While James still hadn’t scored he already tallied five assists.
Dion Waiters made his Lakers debut in the first quarter.
Davis went off in the first quarter, exploding for 14 points on 3-of-8 shooting while also hitting all eight free throws he attempted. He shouldered the offensive load, supplemented by seven points by Kuzma off the bench and six points by McGee on 3-of-3 shooting.
Right where he left off. pic.twitter.com/AZPAtcI00g
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) July 31, 2020
The Lakers jumped out to a 35-23 lead by the end of the first quarter. Paul George led the Clippers with eight points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field. James finished the period scoreless in eight minutes on the court, but with a game-high five assists.
Smith made his Lakers debut early in the second quarter, and a moment later, James scored his first bucket of the resumed season on an explosive dunk.
LeBron drives by Kawhi for the monster dunk
— Lakers Empire (@LakersEmpire) July 31, 2020
Leonard got going early in the second, adding eight points in less than four minutes, including a three-pointer.
Behind four more points from Leonard and a pair of three-pointers by George and Patrick Patterson, the Clippers clawed their way back into the game, cutting the Lakers lead to 50-46.
J.R. Smith didn’t have the warmest welcome, going 0-for-1 in eight minutes, as well as having the Lakers outscored by seven points while he was on the court.
Leonard hit a tough mid-range shot over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to put the Clippers down just one point with two minutes left in the half. But on the ensuing possession, Davis worked through a double team, faked a give-and-go to Caruso, and then slammed it home to put the Lakers back up three.
The Lakers missed opportunities to extend their lead, with three possessions in the final three minutes of the half ending on missed shots from Caruso, rather than getting the ball in the hands of James or Davis.
But James and the Lakers took a narrow 54-52 lead into halftime. The Clippers won the quarter 29-19, on the heels of 14 points from Leonard.
Leonard (19) was one of three Clippers in double digits, along with Reggie Jackson (11) and George (10.)
Davis led all scorers with 20 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field and 12-of-13 shooting at the free throw line. While James was having a poor shooting night (connecting on just 2-of-9 attempts,) he tallied six points, six rebounds, and five assists: on pace for a low-scoring triple double.
The Clippers earned their first lead of the game in the third quarter, on a Paul George three-pointer after a miss by James from deep on the other end. George hit another pair of triples a moment later, giving the Clippers a 61-55 lead, and giving the guard 20 points for the game.
Slappin 3s all game! pic.twitter.com/87g0OJJImX
— The NBA Hustle➐ (@TheNBAHustle) July 31, 2020
The Clippers led by as many as 11 points after a Leonard three-pointer with 7:05 left in the quarter. James answered this time with a three of his own, just his third bucket of the game. The Lakers inched closer on four straight points by the gritty Caruso. The artificial crowd noise almost felt real for a moment as the fan favorite kept the Lakers in the game on a pair of free throws and a driving layup off a Kuzma assist.
Davis hit threes on back-to-back possessions to give the Lakers a brief 72-71 lead. He couldn’t connect on a third straight attempt, but scored on an 18-foot jumper for the quarter’s final score. The Clippers clung on to a 77-76 lead heading into the fourth and final quarter.
Davis finished the third quarter with 32 points to lead all scorers. Leonard (22) and George (20) led a two-pronged Clippers attack. Kuzma (10) was the only other Laker in double digits through three quarters, as James tallied just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Waiters finished at the basket early in the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a 78-77 lead on his fourth score of the night in his Lakers debut. Patrick Beverly hit a three-pointer for the Clippers, and Waiters responded with a three of his own in what had quickly become a three-point shootout.
The barrage from downtown continued, as Kuzma, James, and Green each connected from deep. Kuzma hit his second three-pointer of the quarter to extend the Lakers lead to 94-85.
The red-hot Leonard hit his third three of the game and then hit a pair of shots at the line, cutting the Lakers lead to 96-92 and ensuring the Clippers a fighting chance down the stretch. Five straight points by George including his fifth three-pointer of the night had the Clippers just behind the Lakers 99-98.
James scored a clutch bucket in a crowded paint area to give the Lakers a three-point lead with 1:26 left to play. After a delay in play as referees reviewed possession of a ball batted out of bounds, George hit his sixth three-pointer to tie the game at 101.
James would come right back with another finish at the basket, a put-back though some traffic, to give the Lakers a 103-101 lead with 12.8 seconds left to play. George got off an attempt at a game-winning three-pointer, but his shot was off, and the foul he requested was never called. The Lakers held on for a razor-thin 103-101 victory.
LEBRON GAME WINNER
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 31, 2020
- LeBron James had a poor shooting night. He shot 6-of-19 from the field and 2-of-7 from three-point range. But his seven points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning bucket with 12.8 seconds left, helped seal the Lakers victory. James added seven assists and 11 rebounds.
- The Lakers offense was carried by Anthony Davis, who tallied 34 points on 8-of-19 field goal shooting and 16-of-17 free throw shooting. The big man also pulled down eight boards and dished out four assists.
- The Clippers dynamic duo delivered. Kawhi Leonard had 28 points and three three-pointers, while Paul George led the team with 30 points and six three-pointers. The Clippers next best-scorer was Patrick Beverly with 12 points.
- Dion Waiters had 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting in his Lakers debut, and his team had a +17 advantage while he was on the court. J.R. Smith had a quieter debut, with no points in eight minutes, with a -7 presence on the court.
- The Lakers hit 11 of 36 three-point attempts, while the Clippers connected on 16 of their 36 three-point shots.
The Lakers came in to Thursday night’s matchup 5.5 games ahead of the Clippers in the Western Conference. Barring a catastrophic showing by the Lakers over the regular season’s final eight games, and a near-perfect showing by the Clippers, the Lakers will likely enter the playoffs as the Western Conference’s top seed. The Clippers technically had more incentive to win this game, starting just 1.5 games ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who currently hold the conference’s third seed.
The twp teams seem destined to meet in the playoffs, potentially in the Western Conference Finals if their current conference standings hold.