LOS ANGELES >> Kawhi Leonard began a new chapter with the Los Angeles Clippers, scoring 30 points to go with a strong bench effort in a 112-102 victory over LeBron James and the Lakers tonight in the teams’ season opener.
Lou Williams added 21 points and Montrezl Harrell had 17 off the bench when the Clippers opened their 50th season and 36th in Los Angeles as the once unlikely but now favorites to win the franchise’s first NBA championship.
Leonard won his second NBA title last season in Toronto.
The Lakers showed off their new 1-2 punch of James and Anthony Davis. Davis scored 25 points, making 9 of 14 free throws, and James had 18. Danny Green outscored them both with 28 points.
But Leonard got it done without his personal recruit Paul George, sidelined indefinitely while rehabbing from a pair of offseason shoulder surgeries.
Wearing a black tuxedo jacket and bow tie, George received a mixed reaction when introduced in the playoff-like atmosphere at Staples Center, where the Clippers were the home team for the first of four meetings in the arena the teams share.
The Clippers’ reserves outscored the Lakers’ bench, 60-19
It came down to the fourth quarter, and the Clippers dominated.
Tied 85-all, they opened with a 19-7 run to go up 104-92. Five different players scored and Leonard assisted on Maurice Harkless’ 3-pointer.
With 4 ½ minutes left, Lakers fans chanted “Let’s go, Lakers! Let’s go, Lakers!” while others hit the exits.
The Lakers erased a 14-point deficit in the third, led by Danny Green’s 18 points. He capped a 15-0 run with his fifth 3-pointer before JaMychal Green’s 3-pointer pulled the Clippers into an 85-all tie heading into the fourth.
The Clippers outscored the Lakers 40-29 in the second quarter, buoyed by 16 points from Leonard.
The Lakers raced to a 13-2 lead, their largest of the game. James scored over Leonard and he later heard “MVP! MVP!” chants while sinking his first free throws of the season.
The Lakers shot 53% from the floor in the first quarter, while the Clippers missed shots and had a basket by Williams taken away when the Lakers challenged a foul call on Dwight Howard.
The rivalry was on early with a male fan shouting “Go Lakers!” during the national anthem, drawing big cheers while Clipper fans booed.
Lakers: They fell to 43-29 all-time in season openers. … G Rajon Rondo (sore right calf) sat out.
Clippers: They improved to 25-25 in openers all-time, but still trail the Lakers 3-2 when the teams meet in a season opener. … G Rodney McGruder (right ankle sprain) missed the game.
As part of the NBA’s crackdown on fan behavior this season, cards carrying a message from league security were on seats located courtside and the first couple rows back. They reminded that every fan is required to comply with the league’s fan code of conduct and anyone who acts inappropriately may be subject to ejection and-or revocation of their tickets. The public address announcer reminded fans before both halves about minding their manners.
Leonard took to the mic to welcome Clippers fans to the game. He had to raise his usually low voice to be heard over the din, a mix of cheers from Clippers fans and boos from Lakers fans. “It’s going to be a great season,” Leonard said. “We’re going to play hard every night. Let’s get it going.”
Lakers: Return to Staples Center as the home team Friday against Utah. The Lakers are 25-12 all-time against the Jazz at home.
Clippers: Travel to Golden State on Thursday to open the Chase Center in San Francisco in another blockbuster matchup.