The excitement was palpable outside Staples Center hours before tip-off announcing the return of the NBA season.
In case you've been living under a cave all summer, the NBA universe now orbits around Los Angeles, with the Clippers and Lakers the early preseason co-favorites to win the NBA title.
The Clippers took the first round of the "Battle for L.A." on Tuesday night, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers, 112-102, behind Kawhi Leonard's 30 points.
"I just made shots," said the soft-spoken Leonard matter of factly. "I feel like I got to my spots early, but missed those shots. But then I just started making shots."
The game opened up similarly to how the offseason played out: The Lakers, the first team to make a big splash in the offseason when they traded for All-Star Anthony Davis, jumped out to a 13-2 lead to start the contest.
"It was like a prized-fight," said Clippers' head coach Doc Rivers about the game. "They hit us with a punch to start, but we just kept moving forward,"
Rivers responded to the Lakers run by going to his bench early then anticipated. Thankfully for the former Coach of the Year winner, he had Moe Harkless, Montrezl Harrell, and reigning three-time Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Lou Williams waiting.
Inserting their bench stopped the bleeding for the Clippers, and they began to chip away at the 11-point deficit. The Lakers led 25-22 at the end of the first quarter, and after a stretch where Leonard scored on seven consecutive possessions, the Clippers took a 62-54 lead into the break.
Danny Green caught fire in the third quarter and hit all six of his shots, including five three pointers over the 12-minute span, to help level the game at 85-85 entering the final quarter.
If the matchup was indeed a prize fight as Rivers mentioned, then it was the Clippers who delivered the knockout in the fourth quarter. Led by Leonard and Williams, the Clips' outscored the Lakers 27-17 in the final frame to earn their first victory of the season.
"It was a heavyweight bout," said Williams after the game. "Both teams made runs. All the superstars showed up. Very entertaining and exciting game."
Leonard finished with a game-high 30 points in his Clippers debut, and Williams had 21 off the bench, while substitutes Mo Harkless and Montrezl Harrell combined for 27 points. In total, the Clippers bench outscored the Lakers bench, 60-19.
Green hit seven three-pointers on the night and finished the game with 28 points to lead the visitors--topping both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In fact, Green's 28 points on the night were the most by any Lakers player in their debut, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who scored 27 in his debut in 1975.
"My teammates did a great job of finding me," said Green of the record. "I got into a nice little rhythm and made a couple lucky ones."
Davis wasn't far behind in his own Lakers debut, finishing with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks. James nearly had a triple-double with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
"For us, we're both aggressive," said Davis. "Sometimes we kind of miss each other. I missed him a couple times and he missed me, so just trying to figure it out."
Paul George missed the game for the Clippers with a shoulder injury, but the Clippers displayed their depth in the victory. Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma did not suit up for the Lakers.
China Controversy Takes Center State in Los Angeles
As fans walked past the statues of past legends Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, a reminder of the league's current controversy was just steps away.
NBA's Opening Night blockbuster between the Lakers and Clippers was overshadowed by its current problem with China.
Outside Staples Center, pro Hong Kong protesters passed out T-shirts to fans reading: "Fight for freedom, Stand with Hong Kong."
The TNT broadcast also aired the Hong Kong flag in the background of their pregame show, and analyst Shaquille O'Neal said that Daryl Morey's tweet that was the catalyst for the controversy, was "right." A stance that I'm sure will only add fuel to the flames for the foreseeable future in the NBA and China debacle.
Kawhi Leonard Welcomed to L.A. With Boos from 'Home' Crowd
The Los Angeles Lakers fans wanted to make a statement at Staples Center. Despite the fact that the court read "L.A. Clippers," Lakers Nation came out in full force to let the Clippers know that it's the Lake Show that still run L.A.
The Lakers-leaning crowd was more vocal and more energetic throughout the game, but none more evident than when newest Clipper Kawhi Leonard came out to greet the crowd before tip-off.
Leonard took the microphone at half-court to address the sellout crowd at Staples Center and was promptly booed by the Lakers fans who came to crash the Clippers home game.
Lakers' fans continued to boo Leonard throughout the game, including at the free throw line, but the silver lining for Leonard is this will only happen three other times this year.