Lakers Vs. Clippers, halves: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard best LeBron James, Anthony Davis in the opening

The Los Angeles Lakers may have won the 2020 championship, but the opening night of the 2020-21 season belonged to the Clippers. The reigning champions received their rings before releasing, but their Staples Center brethren ruined the evening with a 116-109 victory punctuated by a stellar Paul George exit. The superstar’s striker dropped 33 points, helping the Clippers take over the Lakers’ season opener for the second straight season.

All four matches last season between these two teams were almost all over. It wasn’t exactly Tuesday. The Clippers faced a 22-point lead in the first quarter, but the Lakers struggled in the second quarter and tied it in the third. But George’s hot shots were enough to seal the victory.

That fits the Lakers very well. Coming out of the shortest off-season in NBA history, they were extremely cautious with their superstars. LeBron James played just 28 minutes and Anthony Davis played 31. These numbers will increase if these teams meet in the postseason, but for now the Lakers are content to ease their way back into the season. The result was a comfortable Clippers victory. Here are three important milestones from that victory.

1. Primetime P

How many players can they say they took the field with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard and overtook them all? Paul George can now add his name to that probably non-existent list with his stellar 33-point performance. George not only managed to shoot 72% of the floor against the NBA’s best defense, but did most of his damage in a 26-point second.

Make all the jokes you want, but that’s no small thing. The Clippers faced a 22-point lead in the first quarter only to blow most of it in the second. The whole internet has been preparing its blown lead jokes, and the narrative around this year’s Clippers would have started on the bad leg it ended last season. George, whose self-given nickname “Playoff P” turned into a more derisive “Pandemic P”, was a major factor in last season’s collapse.

This evening? He was the one who prevented a continuation. It’s not exactly like the playoff stage, but the opening night against your archivists, who happen to be defending champions, is no joke. Such games come with pressure, and George delivered. Whether he will do it again or not when the playoffs arrive remains to be seen, but he passed his first test of the season with flying colors.

2. Slow and steady

Can you guess who drove the Lakers in a few minutes on opening night? I bet you can’t, because the game hasn’t even started. Montrezl Harrell played 32 minutes, most of the entire team. This was somewhat circumstantial in the context of the game. Marc Gasol collected five fouls in 12 minutes. Harrell is the backup center. Of course, he would play a lot. But how often does he lead his reserve team in a few minutes in an even game in the third quarter?

It is a rarity, but it is a necessary one in this condensed season. LeBron James played only 28 minutes. Anthony Davis was not long in 31. This will be the plan for the opening portion of this season. Why run your best players when they just won a championship 73 days ago? The Lakers operate at a serious competitive disadvantage due to that short off-season. They are doing their best to compensate, and the consequences should be minimal. Why do the Lakers need a home advantage if their biggest rival shares their arena? How many playoff games along the way did LeBron win anyway?

Put something right with this shot for the Clippers. The Lakers didn’t try exactly. They enter the season and experiment with new lines while trying to integrate more new players. It’s just not worth moving away from the way they played, because the way they play when it matters will be so different. They lost a game they weren’t so interested in winning. It may be Christmas again when Luka Doncic and the Mavericks come to town. But for now, all that really matters is the health of their best players. They managed to get through game 1 with this intact.

3. Trust the numbers

The Clippers tried 40 triples on Tuesday. Last season, they went 9-1 in games in which they tried at least 40 of 3. Surprisingly, they won again on Tuesday. If you chose the Clippers to win the championship, this number should be very encouraging. Doc Rivers lost his job because he gave a 3-1 advantage, but the truth is that statistically speaking, they left meat on the bone offensively all year. That 9-1 mark underscores how good the Clippers were when they shot enough 3s. They were 14-1 when they took at least 38 and 27-5 when they took at least 34. This is not the science of missiles. Three is a higher number than two, and the Clippers have a lot of players with the ability to make 3 more than they were allowed to take last season.

But Ty Lue gives the green light to his teams. Both full seasons in Cleveland ended with the Cavaliers in the top five for 3-point attempts. Serge Ibaka for Montrezl Harrell adds another layer of distance to the list. This is the best argument for the Clippers as a possible champion in 2021. Last season’s list was poorly optimized on several levels. Lue will fix the biggest one. Clippers will add quite a few free points just by improving the selection of shots. Tuesday was proof of that.