The NBA season has finally resumed and has been nothing short of exhilarating and competitive. The headlining premier matchup featured two of Los Angeles’s own; the Lakers & Clippers. All eyes were focused on LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Paul George as they look for bragging rights and momentum to build on as the playoffs draw close.
From the jump, Anthony Davis made it certain to set the tone in the paint on the shorthanded Clippers by exposing their big men depth with 20 points in the first half. He finished with 34 points, eight rebounds, and four assists while getting to the free-throw line relentlessly, converting on 16 of his 17 attempts. His frontcourt mate LeBron James had an up and down game, showing bursts of life at times especially on the defensive end. James didn’t shoot the ball quite to his standard only hitting six of his 19 attempts from the field. But that’s what makes James so special is even though he was shooting quite poorly, you never felt like he didn’t have his imprint on the game. James also added 11 rebounds, seven assists, a steal, and a block each. Young promising swingman Kyle Kuzma showed off his catch and shoot ability from three-point territory going 4-7 from deep totaling 16 points. The only other player to reach double figures was Dion Waiters who also added 11 points.
As for the Clippers, they were carried on both sides of the floor by their franchise stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Kawhi posted 28 points, three rebounds, four assists while going 3-4 from the three-point line. He also added two blocks and two steals. Evidently, a lot of Kawhi’s attention was focused on James on the defensive end. Paul George had a slow start to the game as he found Anthony Davis being switched onto him on numerous occasions during pick and roll situations. Towards the end of the game though he caught fire including a Clippers scoring run that featured three straight three-pointers scored by George himself. George finished with 30 points, five rebounds, and three assists on 6-11 shooting from three-point land and 11-17 overall. The only other players that reached double figures were Pat Beverley, who has been in and out of the lineup this year due to injuries, but he contributed 12 points including 2-3 three-point shooting. Newcomer, Reggie Jackson, who started for Beverley, also scored 10 points in his starting role debut. With the Clippers down three with about 30 seconds to go, Paul George tied the game at 101 with a three from the left-wing. On the next possession, James came down the middle of the lane splitting the pick and roll and attempted a floater from just outside the free-throw line. The shot was short rimmed and James, as only James could, followed his shot for a putback with 12.8 seconds left on the clock. That just wasn’t it though as James prevented both Leonard and George from scoring to end the game. Even with an inefficient shooting night when the game was on the line in the biggest moments, James was able to remind all of us why he’s still the king of the NBA.
A couple of takeaways from this potential NBA Western Conference Finals matchup was that the Clippers are just now getting 100%. Paul George, Pat Beverley, Kawhi Leonard. They have all been in and out of the starting lineup all year. George and Leonard being probably the only two guys right now who are big enough to at least slow LeBron down on the defensive end and as well as make him work on the other end. It’s not a shock that with the exception of Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce, Leonard and George are the only guys who have applied serious pressure on James in playoff years past. Many came to know Paul George during his Indiana days for his countless battles against LeBron back when he was in Miami. Leonard’s first NBA title and Finals MVP came versus LeBron’s Miami Heat as well so the blueprint to take LeBron starts with those two. Another glare with the Lakers is that both LeBron James and Anthony Davis played at least 34 minutes. LeBron is going to have the tougher task orchestrating the offense as well as having to deal with a pesky Leonard and George in his grill on offense and then having to key in and slow each of them down on defense. This was a reason why Rajon Rondo’s injury came at such an unfortunate time because of his basketball IQ and playoff experience, but now James will look to lean on the likes of Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to help him out. But with LeBron’s track history of being able to elevate teammates’ level of play in the biggest moments, we can never count him out as seen on Thursday night.