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Kawhi Leonard, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams

Shorthanded Clippers set tone for ensuing rivalry with impressive win over Lakers

The Los Angeles Clippers handed the Los Angeles Lakers their first loss of the season, a foreshadowing of what could come through the course of the 2019-20 season and potentially the postseason. Short-handed without Paul George and outnumbered in their own house against their hallway neighbors, the Clippers showed the grit they’ve been known for in past seasons, all while frustrating a duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who combined for a 15-of-40 shooting night (37.5%).

While the Lakers actually got off to a quick start, Davis’ airball on his opening shot after only a light contest from Ivica Zubac was a bad omen:

Davis would force the action, getting to the line nine times in the first quarter, but he would be ultimately frustrated by big bodies like Zubac, Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green.

Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard, who played a sneaky 32 minutes in between several pocket rests, poured in a game-high 30 points, competing against career-long teammate Danny Green, who chipped in 28 in a rousing season debut.

Leonard didn’t have much support from his starting lineup teammates, as none mustered double figures. But the real help came from the second unit, which outscored the Lakers by a whopping 41 points (60-19):

Lou Williams had his way offensively, burying six of his first seven shots and riding that wave throughout the game. The Lakers managed to tie affairs going into the fourth quarter, squared at 85 apiece, but the Clippers showed their mettle in the fourth, outscoring the Lakers by 10 to walk away with a 112-102 victory.

While not at full force, the Clippers didn’t need Leonard to play his best game to win. The Klaw had five personal fouls and six turnovers — two unlikely stats for a player of his quality — but it was his methodic approach and the mastery of the mid-range game that gave the Clippers the constant scoring presence they needed throughout the game.

The difference rests in the bench, though, as all four Clippers substitutes shot 50% from the field or better, something they have mustered in the past in big games. They did it multiple times against the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, a big reason the series went to six games. They did it again in Tuesday’s season opener, and they’re bound to do it again when they’re called upon.

The Lakers’ bench is better than they showed on Tuesday, and a healthy Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo will help the depth, but they were no match for a tuned-in Clippers reserve unit in this one. The Williams-Harrell pick-and-roll is a tool of destruction, and the Lakers could do little to stop it as the duo feasted to score 38 of the Clips’ 60 bench points. Williams’ 21 points outscored the entire Lakers bench by himself.

The Lakers were able to stay in the game thanks in large part to Green’s big night, but the other supporting cogs simply paled in comparison to the Clippers’ all-around production. The likes of Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dwight Howard provided little in comparison to tone-setters like Patrick Beverley and Maurice Harkless, who constantly made defensive plays.

The Clippers have set the tone with this season-opening win, and now it’s up to the Lakers to answer back if they have the tools to do so.