Paul George said he owed the Clippers a championship when he signed his extension. He had his best foot forward to start the season on opening night, dropping 33 points on 18 shots to lead the Clippers to a 116-109 victory over the Lakers on their rival’s ring night.
George set a franchise record with five 3-pointers in a season opener, and he was too good for every defender sent his away. He was the smoothest player on the floor, outplaying his star counterparts on the other end as the Clippers won wire-to-wire.
The Clippers got off to a hot start, looking like a team with something to prove. For the first quarter, it didn’t really look like these two teams belonged on the same court with one another, as the Clippers were able to get whatever they wanted on the offensive end.
Serge Ibaka’s inclusion in the starting lineup gave the first five tremendous amounts of space to work with. Marc Gasol had to hug Ibaka on the perimeter, allowing Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard in particular unimpeded lanes to the cup. When Ibaka came out, Ivica Zubac showed off his dynamism as a roller with Lou Williams. Even when Zubac didn’t explicitly set the screen, he shadowed Williams on his way to the basket for dump offs. The Clippers had individual 13-3 and 15-2 runs during the first quarter as they built a 39-19 lead. They had nine assists on 14 made field goals and outrebounded the Lakers 12-7.
Unfortunately, most of that good work evaporated in the second quarter. The Clippers scored two points over seven and a half minutes, and the Lakers clawed their way back, aided by 13 Clippers fouls in the period, pulling to within two by halftime.
Critically, though, the Clippers never lost their lead. The Lakers tied the game and even had a chance to pull ahead, but the Clippers kept them at bay through most of the third quarter until Paul George went on a flourish of his own to end the period. He scored 10 points in a row to close the third to stretch a three-point lead to 11. The Lakers never got within one possession again.
Perhaps the defining possession of the game came with 5:57 to play when the Clippers had a 66-second possession featuring three offensive rebounds, two by Beverley and one by Leonard. They outhustled the Lakers to each ball and Leonard sealed the play with a fadeaway to put the Clippers up 15.
The Clippers won on opening night last year, too, and that didn’t lead to much. But a win — and a convincing one at that — is far better than the alternative.