Kawhi Leonard produced a superb performance on his Los Angeles Clippers debut as they defeated city rivals the Lakers 112-102 on Tuesday night.
The 2019 NBA Finals MVP led a Clips lineup which was without the services of fellow big-name summer acquisition Paul George – he’ll miss the first 10 weeks of the season through injury – into battle against a Lakers team which was pairing LeBron James and Anthony Davis on an NBA court for the first time.
Davis scored 25 points, making 9 of 14 free throws, James had 18 and Danny Green outscored them both with 28 points for the Lakers.
But it was Leonard who led the scoring on the night with 30 points and he was ably assisted by the tenacity and hustle of Patrick Beverley, who took down 10 rebounds despite playing point guard, as well as two-time reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell who added 21 and 17 points off the bench respectively.
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Leonard was the fulcrum for the Clippers on offense and the highlights of his night came when he raced past the Lakers defense to hammer in a dunk midway through the second quarter and when he rose to block a Dwight Howard dunk from behind early in the fourth.
The Klaw’s night began with him being roundly booed by Lakers fans whilst giving a speech, despite this being slotted as a Clippers home game on the calendar.
But he responded in the best way by top-scoring and stuffing the stats sheet. He also notably outshone the double dosage of star power the Lakers had on show in James and Davis – managing to get his own shots away while helping to nullify their threat
Speaking on Inside the NBA after the game, Kenny Smith said: “He’s the only guy in the world who could do it, but Kawhi Leonard made LeBron James not look athletic.
“There are not many guys that can contain LeBron in key moments the way he did or get his own game off against LeBron.
“Kawhi Leonard shot 10-for-18, he was efficient. LeBron and AD combining for 15-of-40 shooting, that’s not efficient. They both got their numbers, but they won’t get wins shooting 15-for-40.
“We saw it last year from Kawhi but there was no LeBron in the playoffs. He was ‘doing it’ but not ‘doing it’ against the guy who is the best at it. “Tonight, Kawhi ‘did it’ against the best guy which surprised me in Game 1 of the season.”