LAKA BUENA VISTA, FL. – Virtual fans and with the sound of the crowd. A head-to-head between two ex-Final MVPs played in front of a smattering of real faces. Battle for Los Angeles some 3,000 miles from Staples Center.
Lakers 103, Clippers 101.
The NBA is back.
The opening night in the season that the NBA resumed was finally upon us Thursday, and what a strange experience. Playing the Lakers-Clippers of the late season would be an almost impossible ticket to Los Angeles. Fans were packing LA Live hours before tipoff. Scalpers have a field day. In the bubble, the evidence for this brand participation was a dozen or so members of the media, a few more NBA workers and a handful of players who bus to watch from socially distant seats.
Lawrence Tanter, the Lakers ’legendary public address announcer, provided the pre-recorded introductions.
Over time schedules, the Lakers ’usual in-game entertainment was played on a courties screen.
For min, exactly, a little unclear.
America’s social justice movement that was highlighted during the NBA’s resumption, and continued on Thursday. Players took to the floor in black T-shirts, with the BLACK LIVES MATTER marked on the front. Social justice messages have replaced names on the backs of shirts. A two-minute video highlighting the movement played after the warmups. Hours earlier, a gym at the far-flung football stadium, the Pelicans and Jazz knelt for the national anthem. The Lakers and Clippers did the same, joining hands during a pre-taped delivery from the Compton Kid’s Club that came out through speakers hanging from the rafters.
As he knelt, his 58-year-old knee sore, Clippers coach Doc Rivers ignored in his mind to George Floyd, whose death in the knee of a Minnesota police officer raised the movement.
“The worst thing that happened to me in the game today was kneeling for two minutes,” Rivers said. “My knee hurts. In the middle of it, I̵7;m thinking that in two minutes my knee is hurting, however there was a man who had a knee to someone’s neck for eight minutes. There were guys who needed towels. and things to fall to their knees. And someone kneels on another man’s neck for eight minutes. That’s nuts when you think about it. “
The game, predictably, was not a nice one. No one waited for a three-week training camp and three scrimmages to wash away the corrosive effects of a four-month hiatus. And it wasn’t like that. The first quarter of the year was bad. Both teams combined for 21 fouls. The Lakers made two of eight attempts with three points. That’s a strong shot compared to the Clippers, who missed all seven. Anthony Davis scored 14 points in the first quarter. The Lakers finished with a 12-point lead.
The Clippers could be folded. It was a tough month for the other LA team. The roster was issued due to illness and outside issues. Two of the NBA’s top six men – Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell – didn’t play. Marcus Morris was late. Ivica Zubac, diagnosed with COVID-19 in late June, has just returned to practice this week. Patrick Beverley is still working back in the form of the game.
The Clippers don’t give up. They cut ten points off the Lakers ’lead in the second quarter. They built an 11-point lead in the third quarter. They retained the advantage of entering the field. Paul George (30 points) and Kawhi Leonard (28) took charge, while rain, nine of them, on the Lakers defenders.
George’s triple equalized the game with 28 seconds left, and that was when, again, I felt the fear of the moment. A tie game, two of the elite of the Western Conference, and in normal times a crowd of 20,000-plus was going to be roaring. Instead, the discarded voice of Rivers can be heard on the music. Beverley barked out the defensive instructions. When James turned his own foul with 13 seconds left, the only sound came from the Lakers bench.
James didn’t, either. On final possession of the Clippers, James glued himself to Leonard. Leonard bottled the ball to George. James switched over. With James on his hips, George tried to get an off-balance three-pointer that shot wide.
Defensive possession one, two elite defensive plays.
Not bad for 35 years in his 17th season.
“Rhythm, as offensive as possible, to make shots, those things will take a little longer to get back on track,” James said. “But the only thing you can do is defend. You can always communicate … you can have a partner who beats them when you make a mistake. Communication on the defensive side is something that should always be on point.”
One game down, seven going before the playoffs and both teams know there is work to be done. “For me, we still have a long way to go to achieve the habits and discipline we play with when we get into hiatus,” Frank Vogel said. Conditioning remains a factor. The shooting percentage at three points will increase. The in-game experience will continue to be an adjustment – about 300 Lakers fans conferred video to watch the game – as they will play without the energy of a crowd.
“When we’re playing there, we don’t realize that there are no fans in the game,” Davis said. “We just go out there and compete and try to win. They do a good job with the noise of the crowd … but when we are there competitors, only five of us … the more we use this arena, the easier it will be. . “
The games will not be nice. The environment will be weird. But another four months after a global pandemic halted its season, the NBA is back. For the players, for the league, everything is important.