LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Virtual fans and gathered in the crowd noise. A head-to-head between the two Final MVPs played in front of a shred of real faces. A battle for Los Angeles about 3,000 miles from the Staples Center.
Lakers 103, Clippers 101.
The NBA is back.
The opening night in the resumed NBA season finally came to us on Thursday, and what a strange experience. A Lakers-Clippers game late in the season would be an almost impossible ticket to Los Angeles. Fans will pack LA Live a few hours before the start. Scalpers would one day have field. In the bubble, witnesses to this marquee match were a dozen members of the media, several other NBA employees, and a handful of players who ran to see from socially remote places.
Lawrence Tanter, the Lakers̵7; legendary public address announcer, gave pre-recorded presentations.
During closing time, the Lakers’ usual in-game entertainment was played on a court screen.
for Who, exactly, is a bit vague.
The social justice movement involving America was highlighted during the NBA resumption, and continued Thursday. The players came out on the floor in black t-shirts, with black printed materials on the front. Social justice messages replaced the names on the backs of the shirts. A two-minute video that highlighted the movement played behind the heat. Hours ago, at a gym a football field away, the Pelicans and Jazz knelt for the national anthem. The Lakers and Clippers did the same, tying the guns as a pre-arranged show by the Compton Kid Club thrived through rafters.
As he knelt, the 58-year-old aching in the knee, the mind of Clippers coach Doc Rivers went to George Floyd, whose death on the knees of a Minnesota police officer sparked the movement.
“The hardest thing that happened to me in the game today was kneeling for two minutes,” Rivers said. “My knee would hurt. In the middle of it, I’m thinking in two minutes my knee is hurting, however there was a guy who had a knee in someone’s neck for eight minutes. There were guys who needed towels and things for “You got on your knees. And someone knelt on the neck of another human being for eight minutes. That’s nuts when you think about it.”
The game, it is predicted, was not fun. No one expected a three-week training camp and three scrimmages to erase the corrosive effects of a four-month break. And it did not happen. The first quarter was uncertain. The two teams combined for 21 fouls. The Lakers made two of eight three-point attempts. This is the sharpest shot compared to the Clippers, who lost seventh. Anthony Davis scored 14 points in the first quarter. The Lakers finished with a 12-point lead.
Clippers could have been folded. It has been a difficult month for the other LA team. The line has been devastated by external diseases and problems. Two of the NBA’s top six people – Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell – did not play. Marcus Morris was a late arrival. Ivica Zubac, diagnosed with COVID-19 in late June, just returned to practice this week. Patrick Beverley is still working back in game form.
Clippers did not go out. They dropped ten points away from the Lakers’ lead in the second quarter. They built an 11-point lead in the third quarter. They held a lead by entering the fourth. Paul George (30 points) and Kawhi Leonard (28) took over, raining nine of them on the Lakers defenders.
A George trio equalized the game with 28 seconds left, and that’s when, again, you feel the wonder of the moment. Tie game, two of the Western Conference elite, and in normal times a crowd of 20,000 plus would roar. Rather, Rivers’ clumsy voice could be heard over the music. Beverley withdrew the defensive instructions. When James scored in his error with just 13 seconds, the only sound came from the Lakers bench.
James did not become, either. In the final possession of the Clippers, James ascended himself to Leonard. In the bottle, Leonard sent the ball to George. Jacob and Fiki. With James on the hip, George tried a three-pointer out of balance that pulled.
One defensive possession, two elite defensive performances.
Not bad for a 35-year-old in his 17th season.
“Rhythm, as much as it offends, making shots, those things will take a little longer to get back,” James said. “But the thing you can do is defend. You can always communicate … you can have teammates supporting you when you make a mistake. Communicating on the defensive side is something that should always be in question.”
One game down, seven to advance to the playoffs and both teams know there is work to be done. “For me, we have a long way to go to achieve the habits and discipline we played with when we got into the break,” said Frank Vogel. Conditionality remains a factor. Three-point shooting rates will increase. The in-game experience will continue to be an adjustment – around 300 Laker fans video conference to watch the game – as it will play without the energy of a crowd.
“When we’re there playing, we don’t really notice 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 competing, there are only five of us … the more we use this arena, the more it will be easy. “
Games will not be beautiful. The environment will be weird. But four months plus after a global pandemic stopped its season, the NBA is back. For the players, for the league, that’s all that matters.