The battle of LA took place on the first day of the NBA restart in Orlando, Florida. The thunderous environment in Staples Center was missing but the star-studded talent was still present as the Lakers defeated the Clippers in a nail-biter, 103-101.
Both games of the TNT doubleheader began with players and coaches from each team kneeling with arms locked during the national anthem wearing Black Lives Matter shirts.
“Powerful” and “awesome,” said Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers before the game after first viewing the display of unity during the national anthem of the Jazz against Pelicans matchup. “On a day like today, on a day [Senator] John Lewis was laid to rest, I thought it was meaningful.”
“Even though we’re here playing basketball, we still want things to get better,” said Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard. “So we all came down on one knee.”
Lakers forward LeBron James, known to be one of the more vocal athletes for social reform raised his fist in the air during the national anthem.
Throughout the restart, the NBA has allowed players to wear a social justice message on the back of their jerseys so players can address the inequality our country is currently facing in their own way.
Notable messages on the back of Clippers jerseys were Reggie Jackson wearing “Liberation”, Joakim Noah wearing “Justice”, Rodney McGruder wearing “Peace”, and Landry Shamet wearing “Equality”.
On the Lakers, JaVale McGee’s jersey read “Respect Us”, Danny Green’s read “How Many More”, and Alex Caruso’s read “Black Lives Matter”.
The Clippers entered the contest facing adversity and their biggest test in the first official game of the restart facing the Lakers shorthanded with guard Lou Williams currently in quarantine, and forward Montrezl Harrell leaving the bubble to attend personal matters.
The Lakers jumped out to an early lead benefitting from Kawhi Leonard’s second personal foul just five minutes into the game.
After a lackluster first quarter down 12, the reigning Finals MVP Leonard led the Clippers to close the gap to two points at the half, tallying 19 points.
The Clippers defense was relentless, clawing and fighting their way through the 48 mins with gritty defense leading to 29 points off Laker turnovers.
In the third, Anthony Davis was on fire drilling back-to-back three-pointers, capping off the hot third quarter with a mid-range jumper for his 30th point of the game, immediately turning to the Clippers bench with a few words to say about their defense.
Davis, the Lakers leading scorer, lived at the free-throw line throughout the night cashing in 16 of his final 34 points at the free-throw line along with 8 rebounds.
The Clippers were raining three-pointers. As a team, they started the game 0-for-8 from three and finished the game 16-of-36 from downtown.
A deep Kawhi three-pointer in the fourth with 4:06 left to play cut the Laker lead to 6, 96-90.
Lakers guard Alex Caruso came up with a clutch late steal with just under a minute intercepting a pass from Landry Shamet. Down 98-101 Paul George drilled a stepback three-pointer to tie the game at 101 with 28 seconds in regulation.
Cue LeBron James.
LeBron had a quiet offensive night for his king status, scoring 16 points. But the king sealed the game with a putback bucket with 12 seconds on the clock to snatch the victory from the Clippers.
Kawhi Leonard finished the contest with 28 points. His counterpart Paul George finished with 30 points and 3 steals.
“I think what happened today was just phenomenal for the NBA. Like, we need this. It’s crazy how many texts I got today just saying thank you,” said Rivers. “I’ve never had a text before a game that said thank you for playing. I had tons of them. So just really happy and proud of our league and all the things they’re doing. It was great.”
After the game Clippers Head Rivers spoke on what kneeling during the national anthem meant to him.
“The national anthem took two minutes. There were guys that needed towels and things to get under their knees,” said Rivers. “Yet someone kneeled on another human being’s neck for eight minutes. That’s nuts when you think about it.”
The Clippers will face the Pelicans Saturday at 3 PM PST live from the NBA bubble in Orlando.