Lakers vs. Clippers points, takeaways: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard best LeBron James, Anthony Davis in the opening

The Los Angeles Lakers may have won the 2020 championship, but the opening night of the 2020-21 season belonged to the Clippers. The defending champions got their rings before they lost, but their little brothers in the Staples Center spoiled the evening with a 116-109 victory, bordered by a fantastic Paul George excursion. The superstar lost 33 points to help the Clippers take the season opener over the Lakers for the second season in a row.

All four of last season’s games between these two teams were close at all times. That was not exactly the case on Tuesday. The Clippers ran out to a 22-point lead in the first quarter, but the Lakers fought back in the second quarter and leveled it with the third. But George’s hot-shoot was enough to seal the victory.

It just fits the Lakers well. When they came from the shortest off-season in NBA history, they were extremely careful with their superstars. LeBron James played just 28 minutes, and Anthony Davis played 31. Those numbers will go up if these teams meet during the mail season, but for now the Lakers are content to ease their way back into the season. The result was a comfortable Clippers victory. Here are three great takeaways from that win.

1. Primetime P

How many players can say that they have taken the field with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard and overplayed them all? Paul George can now add his name to the likely non-existent list with his fantastic 33-point performance. George not only managed to shoot 72 percent from the floor against arguably the NBA’s best defense, but he made the most of his injury in a 26-point second half.

Make all the jokes you want, but it’s no small feat. The Clippers drove out to a 22-point lead in the first quarter only to blow most of it in the second. The entire internet was preparing its blown lead jokes, and the story of this year’s Clippers would have started on the bad foot that ended last season. George, whose self-proclaimed nickname “Playoff P” was twisted into the more scornful “Pandemic P”, was an important factor in last season’s collapse.

Tonight? It was he who prevented a sequel. It’s not exactly the same as the playoffs, but it’s no joke to open the evening against your arch-rivals, who happen to be the defending champions. Such games come with pressure, and George delivered. Whether he will do it again when the playoffs arrive remains to be seen, but he passed his first test of the season with flying colors.

2. Slow and steady

Can you guess who led the Lakers in minutes on opening night? I bet you can not, because he did not even start the game. Montrezl Harrell played 32 minutes, most on the whole team. There was something elaborate about the game. Marc Gasol got five fouls in 12 minutes. Harrell is the backup center. Of course he would play a lot. But how often does a backup lead his team in a few minutes in a game that was uneven during the third quarter?

It’s a rarity, but it’s one that this condensed season required. LeBron James played just 28 minutes. Anthony Davis was not long before 31. That will be the plan for the opening part of this season. Why run your two best players on the ground when they just won a championship 73 days ago? The Lakers are working at a serious competitive disadvantage thanks to the shortened low season. They do their best to compensate, and the consequences should be minimal. Why do the Lakers need home court advantages if their biggest rival shares their arena? How many road games has LeBron won anyway?

That puts something of a damper on this win for the Clippers. The Lakers did not exactly try. They ease into the season and experiment with new lineups as they try to integrate several new players. It’s just not worth taking away from the way they played because the way they will play when it matters will be so different. They lost a game they were not so interested in winning. Maybe again at Christmas when Luka Doncic and Mavericks come to town. But for now, all that really matters is the health of their two best players. They managed through game 1 with the intact.

Trust the numbers

The Clippers attempted 40 3-pointers on Tuesday. Last season they went 9-1 in matches where they tried at least 40 3s. Not surprisingly, they won again on Tuesday. If you chose the Clippers to win the championship, that number should be very encouraging. Doc Rivers lost his job because he beat a 3-1 lead, but the truth is that they statistically left meat on the bone offensively all year. The 9-1 goal underscores how good the Clippers were when they shot enough 3s. They were 14-1 when they took at least 38 and 27-5 when they took at least 34. This is not rocket science. Three is a bigger number than two, and the Clippers have many players with the capacity to make more 3s than they had to take last season.

But Ty Lue gives his teams the green light. Both of his full seasons in Cleveland ended with the Cavaliers in the top five for 3-point attempts. Serge Ibaka replaces Montrezl Harrell to another layer distance to the list. That is the best argument for the Clippers as a possible champion in 2021. Last season’s list was poorly optimized on a number of levels. Lue will fix the biggest. The Clippers will add a lot of free points just by improving their shot selection. Tuesday was proof of that.