Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 103-97 on Thursday night to start their season with high hopes. Kawhi Leonard had 14 points and seven rebounds in his first game in 16 months.
In his first game since tearing a ligament in his right knee in a playoff game in June 2021, Leonard entered the game off the bench for the first time since 2013 and played 21 minutes. After sitting out the entire previous season as he recovered from surgery, the two-time NBA Finals MVP made the decision to gradually return in a temporary reserve position.
Leonard stated, “My intention was to strive to be exceptional in my minutes.” Enjoy yourselves, remain healthy, and win the basketball game, of course. Last night, we did it. But it’s just the first game. There is still plenty to do.
For the Clippers to win their first title, Leonard’s ability to regain elite form is crucial. Along with five-time All-Star Wall, who played immediately in his first NBA game in 18 months after missing all of last season in Houston because of injury, Leonard, George, and Wall are all healthy right now.
Wall commented on his return, “I was turned up for sure.” I won’t lie: It felt wonderful. With me (and Leonard) on a minutes restriction, it will just take some time for us to adjust to our new team, but we’ll get there in due time.
A mid-game fall left Anthony Davis with limited mobility, but he still managed to score 25 points, while LeBron James had 20 points and 10 rebounds in his 20th career home opening. In his Lakers home debut, Lonnie Walker scored 26 points.
Despite terrible shooting efforts by Russell Westbrook (0 for 11) and fellow point guards Patrick Beverley (1 for 7) and Kendrick Nunn (0 for 7) in their Lakers home debuts, the Lakers improved to 0-2, but they still came back from two significant deficits and kept the game close into the last minute. Overall, the Lakers made 9 out of 45 three-point attempts.
All of our men are receiving terrific looks, Davis remarked. Belief in yourself is something you should keep doing. Don’t allow missed shots to undermine your self-assurance. Keep firing. They will fall if you have faith in your shot.
Fans were startled when the frequently injured Davis fell to the ground in the third quarter after being undercut. A short while later, he came back and continued playing despite back pain.
Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac of the Clippers each scored 14 points. Zubac also pulled down 17 rebounds, six of which were offensive.
Four players from the Lakers’ injury-prone team are already out, including G Dennis Schröder (thumb surgery) and C Kawhi Leonard 0 (thumb surgery).
The concept of leaving the bench and entering the game was put forth by Leonard. Since coming off the bench for the Spurs in New York on November 10, 2013, Leonard had started 447 straight regular season games and 100 postseason games.
Leonard said he’ll probably skip one of this weekend’s back-to-back games for the Clippers.
NOT BENCHED IS RUSS
The guard said that coming off the bench may have contributed to his preseason hamstring injury since he didn’t know how to warm up properly for a reserve role after spending the previous 13 years as an NBA starter, according to Lakers coach Darvin Ham. In no way, shape, or form, would Ham and the Lakers put a player in danger, according to Ham.
Clippers: On Saturday, at Kings.
Trail Blazers will visit the Lakers on Sunday.