Kawhi Leonard shines brightest as Clippers take battle of L.A. from Lakers

Kawhi Leonard’s Los Angeles debut didn’t exactly get off to a great start.

The newly signed Clipper was roundly booed while delivering a pregame speech in front of a Staples Center “home crowd” packed with spurned Lakers fans.

He missed his first two shots and turned the ball over twice as the Lakers opened up a 13-2 lead.

But it didn’t take long for Finals MVP Kawhi to find his groove on a star-studded night as the Clippers took over the second quarter and beat back a Lakers rally in the third to win the season-opening battle of Los Angeles, 112-102.

The Clippers overcame an injured Paul George and a record night from Danny Green to win the opening salvo in the battle of L.A (Kirby Lee/Reuters)

Big Clippers win with Paul George on the bench

It was a resounding opening salvo from the Clippers, who took blow after blow from a game Lakers team, but still came out on top as six-time All-Star Paul George watched from the bench with ailing shoulders.

Leonard led all scorers with 30 points while adding six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. He hit seven straight shots in the first-half run that saw the Clippers overcome their 11-point deficit to take a 62-54 lead into halftime.

And after Green led the Lakers with an 18-point third quarter to enter the fourth quarter tied at 85, Leonard and his new teammates maintained their poise for a dominant final stanza in the 10-point win.

But it wasn’t all Leonard. Leonard and George join a team that made the playoffs in the cutthroat Western conference without them last season and took two games off the Golden State Warriors in their first-round matchup. This is core that already knows how to win.

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Kawhi Leonard and Paul George together
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Kawhi Leonard and Paul George together
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots while defended by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Rob Ferguson)
San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard (2) is defended by Indiana Pacers' Paul George (13) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Indianapolis. San Antonio defeated Indiana 110-106. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 1: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs takes the game winning shot against the Indiana Pacers as Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers watches at AT&T Center on March 1, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 1: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs hugs Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers at the end of the game at AT&T Center on March 1, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 22: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball as Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder defends during the second half of an NBA game at Scotiabank Arena on March 22, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Clippers veterans shine alongside Leonard

Lou Williams played his regular spark-plug role off the bench, notching 21 points and seven assists while Montrezl Harrell racked up 17 points and seven rebounds. It was a strong team defensive effort that saw the Clippers hold the Lakers to 43.5 percent shooting from the field and force 15 turnovers.

“You see what they did last year,” Leonard told TNT’s Allie LaForce of his Clippers teammates. “These guys fight. They fight hard every single night.”

LeBron James, Anthony Davis side by side

It wasn’t all bad for Lakers fans as they got their first glimpse of James and Davis playing together. James tallied 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to kick off his 17th NBA season. He was dominant at times on defense, forcing multiple turnovers including a third-quarter sequence that saw him secure a chase-down block of Landry Shamet and draw a charge from Harrell on the same possession.

Davis tallied 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in his Lakers debut while leading the team in field goal attempts with 21, a statistic that could be the norm his season in Los Angeles.

But neither was efficient against the Clippers defense, as Davis hit 8-of-21 field goal attempts and James connected on 7-of-19. They combined for two points in the decisive fourth quarter.

The Lakers played without Kyle Kuzma, who’s nursing a stress injury in his foot.

Danny Green’s record night

Green looked every bit the shooter the Lakers so often lacked last season, heating up to hit 7-of-9 3-point attempts en route to his team-leading 28 points, breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 27 points in a Lakers debut.

But it wasn’t enough as Leonard picked up where he left off as the Finals MVP in Toronto.

Both teams will be considerably more seasoned the next time they tip off on Christmas day. If all goes as planned, George and Kuzma will take the floor for Round 2

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