Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma came off the bench to score 16 points in a 103-101 defeat of the Clippers on Thursday night. (Mike Ehrmann via AP)
The Lakers and Clippers were the two best teams in the Western Conference when the NBA season was shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and both teams proved that was still the case when they met Thursday night in Orlando, Fla., for their first contest in more than four months.
In a back-and-forth entertaining game, the Lakers defeated the Clippers 103-101 after Paul George missed a last-second three-point attempt in the NBA’s restart to its season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Lakes duo of Anthony Davis (34 points) and LeBron James (16 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists) demonstrated why they are considered the best duo in the NBA. But in the end, James was the force for the Lakers with his offense and defense. He missed a shot that James felt Clippers forward Marcus Morris had fouled him on. But instead of complaining, James hustled for the rebound and scored on a put-back layup for a 103-101 the winning margin. Then James dug down on defense, first taking Kawhi Leonard when he had the ball and then George as the last possession played out with time ticking away. James played tough, tight defense on George, who missed the potential game-winner as time expired.
2. The Clippers pair of George (30 points) and Leonard (28 points) showed why they are the best two-way players in the NBA. George was on fire most of the game, shooting 11 of 17 from the field and six for 11 from the three-point line. Leonard was seven-for-16 shooting from the field and 11 for 13 from the free-throw line. They provided their usual aggressive defense.
3. The Lakers got a big lift from their bench. Kyle Kuzma had 16 points and seven rebounds, Dion Waiters had 11 points and Alex Caruso had seven points and a big steal late in the game.
4) Both the Lakers and Clippers took a knee during the playing of the national anthem, with some of them bowing their heads. Both teams interlocked their arms, with Clippers coach Doc Rivers locking arms with Lakers forward Anthony Davis and Lakers coach Frank Vogel as a sign of solidarity.
5) The Lakers and Clippers have now played each other four times this season and they have both won two games, with the Lakers winning the last two. Perhaps that just showed how close these two teams are and why they are expected to meet in the Western Conference finals and guarantee a Los Angeles team in the NBA Finals.