After a lengthy offseason filled with high expectations and a revamped roster, the Los Angeles Lakers finally kicked off their 2017-18 campaign. They arrived at Staples Center in a heavily anticipated clash against the Los Angeles Clippers, with the city of Los Angeles patiently waiting for the start.
Head coach Luke Walton made some interesting roster decisions prior to the start of the game, as Thomas Bryant and Ivica Zubac were both made inactive. At the same time, Luol Deng and Larry Nance Jr. were inserted into the starting lineup, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope serving his two-game suspension and Julius Randle shifting to a bench role.
They joined Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Brook Lopez in the starting lineup, ushering in the new era of Lakers basketball. On the other hand, the Clippers sent out Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Patrick Beverly, Milos Teodosic, and Danilo Gallinari.
In a nationally televised game, both teams came out rather anxious, with the Lakers youth showing signs of nerves. Although they were able to create good looks, the shots weren’t falling as they started the game 1-for-11. A few creative opportunities from Ball did set up a few sets of free throws, including a beautiful pass that set up a clear-path foul for Brook Lopez.
The Lakers also made a conscious effort to attack the glass, attempting to limit the rebounding situation for Jordan and Griffin. Teodosic, the offseason acquisition, showed his strength early on, creating shots via the pick and roll for a few early assists.
Another interesting matchup occurred between Ball and Beverly, turning into a chippy matchup on both ends. Beverly was able to force a turnover and talk a little trash to Ball, but Ball returned the favor by forcing two early fouls and taking the new Clipper out of the game.
Nance Jr., opening the season in the starting lineup, also came to play early. His usual constant burst of energy led to a series of baskets at the rim, while he used his defensive presences to box out properly and collect rebounds.
Although the Lakers fell down early, the early substitutions brought an offensive presence that helped them climb back into the game. Jordan Clarkson was able to knock down a few early shots, while also creating for his teammates when the Clippers attempted to adjust.
The Clippers were able to finish the first quarter with a 27-19 lead, with both teams having a sloppy shooting exhibition.
The second quarter started off just as the first ended, with the Lakers seeming stagnant on offense. While trying to orchestrate the offense, the Lakers seemed to be stuck prior to their second option and had to rely on many late clock situations.
One positive to take away from the first half was the way the Lakers were attacking the glass after a shot went up. All five Lakers went after the rebound as the shot went up, which was a positive in a forgettable first half.
The team didn’t have the appropriate flow that Walton would have hoped for, while Doc Rivers was continually yelling at his team. Both Los Angeles teams weren’t executing on offense, as the game got rather ugly in the second quarter. Clarkson became the aggressor, hitting five total shots halfway through the second quarter.
The Clippers pushed the lead to 51-36 with three minutes left in the first half, as Walton was forced to call yet another timeout. Ball was off to a slow start in his regular season debut, as his teammates weren’t able to finish some of his outlet passes. He scored his first career bucket towards the end of the first half, hitting a three-pointer on the left wing. The No. 2 overall pick was a beneficiary of a few hockey assists, leading Ingram to an easy drop-off assists to Nance Jr.
The Lakers were able to muster a quick 6-2 run to end the half, bringing the Clippers lead down to 53-42 at halftime. Clarkson led the way with 11 points, while Nance Jr. chipped in eight points and seven rebounds. Griffin took charge of the Clippers offense with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting, while Jordan had eight points and 16 rebounds at the half.
The offense seemed to start off on the right foot to open up the second half, as the Lakers got three quick buckets in the first two minutes. Nance Jr. was the recipient of a Ball alley-oop, while Lopez also scored a nice runner down the lane.
Although the game was getting out of hand, the Lakers needed to use this game as a learning experience. The team was creating strong shot opportunities, but the shots just weren’t falling. Both teams remained under the 40 percent field goal clip halfway into the third, demonstrating just how sloppy of a game it was.
However, the defense wasn’t as strong, as the Clippers scored 15 points just four minutes into the third quarter. Griffin continued to lead the charge, reaching 25 points, while Jordan quickly got to 20 rebounds. The Clippers steadily pushed the lead to near 20 points, as the Lakers fought to keep the game at a close distance.
The third quarter pace escalated compared to the first half, as both teams got to an up-tempo pace and got plenty of shots up. Walton went to his bench unit to end the third, with Kyle Kuzma, Clarkson, Alex Caruso, Corey Brewer, and Randle. The Clippers pushed the lead to 87-63 to end the third.
The game turned ugly early into the fourth, as the Clippers pushed the game to a 30-point lead. The bench unit wasn’t able to keep up with the Clippers, with the Clippers continuing to push the pace. Walton inserted his starters back into the game, as they were able to make a small run.
Nance Jr. and Ingram created for one another on back-to-back plays, while Clarkson also hit a couple of shits to bring the lead back down to 20. At this point, Rivers elected to put his starters back into the game, even with his team up 20 halfway into the fourth quarter.
The Lakers chipped away at the lead as the fourth progressed, including a Randle three-point play that brought the lead under 20 points. Tyler Ennis got his first action in the second half, feeding Randle on a beautiful assist.
The Clippers slowly executed their offense to run out the clock, as the Lakers used the final quarter to work on their offense. At the end of the season opener, the Clippers came away with a 108-92 victory. They were able to form some positives going into the next game, which is a showdown on Friday against the Phoenix Suns.
Lopez finished as the leading scorer, with 20 points on 7-for-19 shooting. Nance Jr. had the best performance of the game, finishing with 14 points (7-for-11 FGs), 12 rebounds, and a block. In his highly anticipated debut, Ball finished with an underwhelming three points, but contributed nine rebounds and four assists.