Kawhi Leonard marked his first NBA game in more than a year with 14 points and seven rebounds on Thursday to help the Los Angeles Clippers down the crosstown rival Lakers 103-97.
The Clippers, who hope Leonard’s return from a torn knee ligament will take them to a first NBA title, beat the 17-time champion Lakers for the eighth straight time.
Paul George scored 15 points and John Wall chipped in 15 in his first game for the Clips.
“It’s amazing,” Leonard said of playing on a full-strength Clippers team. “You see tonight, everybody is out there contributing on the defensive end and on the offensive end.”
Leonard, who won titles with the San Antonio Spurs and Raptors, came off the bench for the first time since 2013 and played 21 minutes.
“I feel good,” Leonard said, adding that coming off the bench wasn’t a tough adjustment.
“I pretty much do my same routine, keep my focus and tell myself it’s something that’ll help in the long run,” said Leonard, who entered the contest with six minutes left in the second quarter and promptly drained two shots.
For the Lakers, it was a second straight defeat to start the season, but coach Darvin Ham said he liked the fight he saw from LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company.
James finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds and Davis scored 25 points with eight rebounds despite hurting his back in a hard fall in the third quarter.
“We had a no-quit mentality,” said Ham, whose assessment that the Lakers were “trending in the right direction” was echoed by Davis.
“Our competitive spirit was there,” Davis said. “We did a good job on all their guys defensively. We’ve just got to do a better job of making shots.”
Russell Westbrook had another nightmarish outing, scoring just two points on free throws as he went 0-for-11 from the field.
He did contribute defensively as the Lakers erased two sizeable deficits.
A 17-0 scoring run gave the Clippers a 15-point lead in the third quarter.
The Lakers battled back and took a two-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Clippers pulled away again.
James said it was an improvement on the Lakers’ season-opening loss to the Golden State Warriors.
“We played the right way,” James said. “I think we made another step forward today.”
Bucks hold off 76ers
The day’s other game was a back and forth affair as Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks withstood a fourth-quarter surge from the 76ers to launch their NBA season with a 90-88 victory in Philadelphia.
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Antetokounmpo, who led the Bucks to the 2021 title, flirted with a triple-double with 21 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists as the Bucks handed the Sixers their second defeat of the fledgling season.
James Harden scored 16 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to lead a Philadelphia comeback bid that featured a 13-0 scoring run and saw the 76ers take the lead at 86-84 with less than two minutes to play.
It was their first lead since the opening basket of the contest, but they couldn’t build on it.
Wesley Matthews’ three-pointer with 23.8 seconds remaining gave Milwaukee an 89-88 lead with 25.7 seconds remaining.
With four seconds to play Harden drove from the left and spun to the rim but couldn’t convert and Brook Lopez finally sealed it for the Bucks with a free throw and an intentional miss that bounced off the rim and back into his hands in the waning moments.
“I think we did a great job just keeping our composure,” Antetokounmpo said. “We had the lead, we lost the lead. They were playing good, they were moving the ball.
“Harden got hot, was making shots, was getting his teammates involved. We kept our composure, we kept trusting one another.”
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