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Recap: Kawhi Leonard Leads Clippers to 112-102 Win over Lakers

No Paul George, no problem for Kawhi and the Clippers in the season opener.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Behind 30 points from Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers got off to a 1-0 start with a 112-102 win over the Lakers at Staples Center on Tuesday night. Things didn’t look smooth for the home team early on, but a strong second quarter propelled LAC to what should be the first of several double-digit victories this season.

Leonard made 10 of his 19 shots from the field and 9 of 10 free throw attempts to pace the Clips in scoring. The Clippers shot a hair under 52% from the field and nailed 11 of their 31 tries from 3-point range. The Lakers meanwhile, shot 43.5% and went 13-33 from beyond the arc.

Lou Williams did Lou Williams things, finishing with 21 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds off the bench. Williams wound up logging a surprisingly high 37 minutes, while Montrezl Harrell got 38. The starting frontcourt of Ivica Zubac (10) and Patrick Patterson combined to play just 27 minutes on the night.

Danny Green of all people led the Lakers with 28 points in his team debut. Green effectively kept the Lakers in the game with a particularly hot display of shooting in the third quarter, during which he drilled 5 triples.

Green’s dynamic outing was really the only reason the Lakers didn’t get blown out in this one. Anthony Davis finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in his own debut, but he and LeBron James combined to contribute just 11 points in the second half. Davis and James shot a combined 15-40 from the field, thanks in large part to energetic defense from the Clippers.

Doc Rivers ran a 9-man rotation on opening night. Leonard was the only starter to crack double figures in scoring, while all 4 reserves managed to accomplish the feat. JaMychal Green and Maurice Harkless, who were both quite a bit more impressive than Patterson, combined to supply 22 points and 10 rebounds while hitting 6 of 10 3-point attempts. That’ll do.

Rocky Start

The Clippers got off to a miserable offensive start, which led to Doc Rivers trying to bolster the offense by bringing Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell into the game before 4 minutes had elapsed.

The Lakers’ size was an issue for the Clippers matchup-wise to start the game on both ends. LAL started the game 6-11 from the floor, while LAC was just 3-10. Anthony Davis and LeBron James combined to score 12 of the Lakers’ first 17 points, while Kawhi missed his first two shots from the field.

The Lakers tried to use their size to their advantage offensively by posting up smaller defenders at just about every opportunity. The Clippers had just 8 points on the board with 3:33 left in the frame. Fortunately the Lakers only had 17 at the time, which made it easier for LAC to start closing the gap.

The offense got going once Williams and Harrell entered the fray, and JaMychal Green gave the team vastly better minutes than Patrick Patterson on both ends to start the game.

Second Quarter Outburst

The Clips started to quicken the pace early in the second, and they took their first lead of the game when Kawhi drilled his first triple as a Clipper around the 11-minute mark. Leonard and James started to go back and forth after that, with Leonard drilling each of his next 6 shots, including several from completely absurd angles.

LAC has a pretty clear advantage on their rivals from a depth perspective, and we saw that as the tide turned in the second quarter. Green and Moe Harkless gave the Clips good energy defensively, which helped lead to some easy transition opportunities at the other end.

The Laker quintet of Troy Daniels, Dwight Howard, Quinn Cook and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were minus-10, minus-10, minus-11 and minus-11 during their respective stints on the floor in the first half. Conversely, all four Clippers reserves (Williams, Harrell, Green, Harkless) were in the positives.

The Clippers were lucky to trail by just 3 after the first quarter given the way they started the game, but they really found their rhythm in the second. LAC racked up 40 points on blistering 17-22 shooting in the frame after going just 7-20 over the course of the first 12 minutes. LAC took a 62-54 lead into halftime.

Back-and-Forth Second Half

To begin the third, the Clippers built a 12-point lead thanks to some stingy defense keeping the Lakers out of the paint, but then Danny Green happened. Green hit 5 threes in the third period alone, including 3 within the final 3 minutes of the frame. Meanwhile, the Clips’ offense stalled at the other end. LAC mustered just 3 points in the final 3:50, and things were all squared at 85 after 3.

Fortunately, the Point LeBron experiment didn’t have the desired effect for the Lakers offensively. The LAL offense was utterly stagnant for the first half of the fourth quarter, which allowed the Clippers to rebuild a lead they would never relinquish.

Depth Matters

The Clippers’ bench scored 60 points. The Lakers’ bench scored 19 points. That was essentially the story of the game. Depth is going to be a huge asset for LAC this season, while LAL clearly has issues on that end. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Clippers looked this scary with Paul George sitting on the bench wearing a bowtie.

Rim protection will probably be a concern for the Clippers this season given their lack of a true big man outside of Zubac. I was worried the Lakers would punish that soft spot with their size, but they never got much going at the rim after the first few minutes of the game. Davis was forced into taking contested jumpers for most of the night, while James wasn’t particularly assertive in looking to drive and generate shots for himself.

The Clippers will get Wednesday off before heading up to San Francisco to face the Warriors on Thursday night for GSW’s home opener at the brand-new Chase Center.