The Los Angeles Lakers sure didn’t have long to savour their 17th NBA title.
Little more than two months after the Lakers locked up the 2020 crown with a Finals win over the Miami Heat, they were back to the grind in a 116-109 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the opening night of the 2020/21 campaign on Wednesday AEDT.
Paul George led the Clippers, less than two weeks after signing a four-year contract extension worth a reported $226 million.
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George scored 26 of his 33 points in the second half as the Clippers kept the Lakers at bay.
“I got into a good rhythm making plays for the team,” George said.
“That’s how I catch fire – I let the game come to me. I took the shots when they were available.”
Kawhi Leonard added 26 points for the Clippers, who are out to expunge the memory of their agonising Western Conference semi-finals loss to the Denver Nuggets, who trailed 3-1 in the series but won in seven games.
LeBron James led the Lakers with 22 points. Anthony Davis added 18 and German point guard Dennis Schroder – a new addition – scored 14 points with 12 rebounds and eight assists.
The night at Staples Center started with the Lakers receiving their diamond and amethyst championship rings.
There were no fans in attendance, but family members – and some frontline healthcare workers who are Lakers fans – delivered heartfelt recorded messages of congratulations to the team prior to the game.
But they were on the back foot early, trailing from start to finish in a game the Clippers led by as many as 22 points in the first quarter.
“The game comes quick, and you’ve got to get focused,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of shifting gears after the ring ceremony.
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The Lakers cut the deficit to 56-54 at halftime, and Schroder’s jump shot knotted it at 75-75 with 5:04 left in the third.
But the Clippers clamped down defensively and pulled away again.
“It’s just weird in all facets,” said James, who turned an ankle in the fourth quarter, about the overriding feeling of the day.
“Celebrating a historic moment with our franchise and having to do it without our family and friends and our fans, it’s just a weird day to say the least.
He added of the result: “It’s game one, it’s the first test for us. We’ve literally been together for nine days as a full group.”
The game was one of two on the opening-day slate, which also featured Kevin Durant’s long-awaited Brooklyn Nets debut. It didn’t disappoint, the two-time NBA Finals MVP teaming seamlessly with Kyrie Irving in a 125-99 blowout over the Golden State Warriors.