NBA

Emotional Kawhi Leonard hails 'amazing' LA return after winning Clippers debut

By Sports Desk October 23, 2019

Kawhi Leonard was filled with emotion as he described an "amazing" return to Los Angeles after leading the Clippers to victory over the Lakers on the NBA's opening night.

Without Paul George, the Clippers won 112-102 against a Lakers team containing LeBron James and Anthony Davis at Staples Center.

Leonard produced an influential performance, as a game-high 30 points came with six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block.

He was heavily booed by Lakers fans after turning down the chance to join the team in favour of joining their city rivals.

But Leonard, who won the NBA title with the Toronto Raptors last year, provided the perfect answer, hitting seven straight shots at one stage as the Clippers scored 40 points in the second quarter.

"All those emotions went through me again," Leonard said of his Clippers debut back in his hometown.

"Once I'm playing the game, I'm locked in. But before the game last night there were a lot of emotions, knowing my family was going to be here and that I'm going to be playing here at Staples, my hometown – it's just amazing.

"It was great, a lot of emotions, game one. I'm just happy we came out and got a victory. We played a great practice the last week, everyone competing and pushing everybody's limits and we had some carry over.

"I just made shots pretty much. I felt like I got to my spots early, missed some little chippies but started making shots. That's what happens."

Lakers fans targeted Leonard with boos when the lineups were announced and again as he attempted to address the Clippers' fans before the game.

"I just heard a loud noise," he said. "I was just trying to be as loud as I can. I wasn't sure if the Clipper fans were being loud or if it was the Laker fans.

"I didn't pay attention to it too much. I was just trying to let the fans know the appreciation we have for them for coming out."

Clippers coach Doc Rivers was impressed by Leonard's first outing, while also recognising the importance of the bench, who outscored the Lakers' second unit 60-19.

"He talks with his game," Rivers said of Leonard. "I think that's the way it should be. It's a great sign of leadership.

"He was intense. You could feel the intensity, there's no doubt about that. And this bench is going to be better this year than even last year."

Leonard, who was 10-of-19 shooting in 32 minutes, added: "These guys were a playoff team last year, they fight hard every single night. We are not going to stop just because I'm here or Paul's here.

"We're missing a couple more pieces still, with Paul and a great defender Rodney [McGruder] too."

The Clippers have another high-profile game up next, on the road against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

Related items

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo avenges Raptors playoff loss but unmoved by Drake provocation Giannis Antetokounmpo avenges Raptors playoff loss but unmoved by Drake provocation

    Giannis Antetokounmpo acknowledged he had last season's Game 6 Eastern Conference Finals defeat to the Toronto Raptors on his mind as the Milwaukee Bucks won in Canada on Tuesday.

    Eventual champions the Raptors rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to dump out Antetokounmpo's number one seed Bucks at Scotiabank Arena in May.

    But the two teams are leading the way again in the east this year, and Milwaukee brought up 50 wins with a 108-97 success on their first return to Toronto since the playoffs.

    Reigning MVP and 2019-20 candidate Antetokounmpo put up 19 points and 19 rebounds, and the victory was particularly encouraging as he witnessed a postseason atmosphere on the road.

    "Yeah, you expect that [atmosphere]," he said. "It's the second time we've faced Toronto.

    "We got the first one at home, and you know they're going to try to come out, set the tone and play hard. They're a team that don't stop playing hard.

    "That's why they win so many games, that's why they're so good. You expect that, and we knew we had to come out here and earn it."

    Asked whether he had thought of the previous meeting, the Greek added: "Obviously, obviously.

    "You always remember the last time you played here, the performance you had. It was definitely on my mind."

    Antetokounmpo would not be distracted, even as rapper Drake brought out WWE championship belts in a nod to a wrestling video the Bucks posted of their star man the previous day.

    Toronto icon Drake had played the part of cheerleader as the Raptors roared past Antetokounmpo in May, yet the 25-year-old was not concerned by the superfan's latest attempts to get under his skin.

    "I didn't notice that. I just found out about it. Somebody told me," Antetokounmpo said. "When I'm in the game, I'm just locked in, trying to win the game.

    "I really don't look outside at the fans, at what they're doing.

    "That's good [that Drake wanted to antagonise me]. He cares about me? I didn't know it. I'm just here to win games and help my team win."

  • LeBron James on first career meeting with Zion Williamson: He's going to get better and better LeBron James on first career meeting with Zion Williamson: He's going to get better and better

    LeBron James proved he is still the master after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, but he tipped the apprentice Zion Williamson "to get better and better".

    It was the first career meeting between superstar James and exciting rookie Williamson, with the former dropping a season-high 40 points and adding eight rebounds as the Lakers triumphed 118-109 to make it six straight wins in the NBA.

    Anthony Davis contributed 21 points despite only going 6-for-21 from the field, adding 14 rebounds and six blocks, while Alex Caruso was also influential for the Lakers.

    Speaking after the game, James predicted Williamson – who landed 29 points for the Pelicans, second only to former Laker Brandon Ingram's 34 – will be a star for years to come.

    "He's playing exceptional basketball," James said in quotes reported by ESPN. 

    "I think his game is going to get better and better, just having that experience. I think today's game is the perfect fit for his game. 

    "The high pace, the way they play, it fits his game. It works perfectly, and our game is so many possessions now, so much space, it's perfect for his game, so he's doing exceptionally well with that."

    Davis, who moved to LA from New Orleans in July, echoed a similar message in his assessment of Williamson, saying: "He's a great player.

    "He's got a quick first step. Very explosive. He's going to continue to get better and better as he goes on."

    Williamson was injured for the Pelicans' first two encounters with the Lakers this season but has now scored 20-plus points in nine consecutive games.

    The 19-year-old paid tribute to James' performance.

    "It was a great experience," Williamson said. "He's an incredible player. 

    "His resume speaks for himself. He handled business. He came out here and did what he had to do to help his team get the win."

    James also put up eight assists and provided several highlight-reel dunks. Asked to explain why he had so much success, the veteran said: "I was just reading the defense. 

    "They went under a lot of my pick-and-rolls; pretty much every team has done that this year, so I just try to make them pay. 

    "I was able to get a couple of threes going and then I was being aggressive the rest of the [third] quarter."

  • LeBron leads Lakers to sixth straight win, Bucks reach 50 victories LeBron leads Lakers to sixth straight win, Bucks reach 50 victories

    LeBron James inspired the Los Angeles Lakers to a sixth straight win, while the Milwaukee Bucks secured their 50th victory of the NBA season.

    James posted a season-high 40 points in the Lakers' 118-109 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.

    Anthony Davis had a double-double of 21 points and 14 rebounds, while James went 17-of-27 from the field while also contributing eight rebounds and six assists.

    The top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Zion Williamson poured in 29 points for the Pelicans.

    In a battle between the Eastern Conference's top two, the Bucks were too good for the Toronto Raptors 108-97.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo had 19 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists as Milwaukee improved to 50-8.

     

    Terrific Tatum, super Sabonis

    Jayson Tatum lifted the Boston Celtics past the Portland Trail Blazers 118-106 with 36 points, going eight-of-12 from three-point range.

    Domantas Sabonis' 21 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists helped the Indiana Pacers thrash the Charlotte Hornets 119-80.

    Zach LaVine's 41 points were not enough for the Chicago Bulls, who were edged by the Oklahoma City Thunder 124-122.

     

    Horrible Hornets

    Charlotte are now 3-7 in their past 10 after the heavy loss to the Pacers. Terry Rozier went two-of-13 from the field for five points in 26 minutes.

     

    LeBron, Caruso combine

    Alex Caruso delivered a pass through his legs for James to dunk home.

    Tuesday's results

    Indiana Pacers 119-80 Charlotte Hornets
    Milwaukee Bucks 108-97 Toronto Raptors
    Oklahoma City Thunder 124-122 Chicago Bulls
    Denver Nuggets 115-98 Detroit Pistons
    Los Angeles Lakers 118-109 New Orleans Pelicans
    Boston Celtics 118-106 Portland Trail Blazers
    Sacramento Kings 112-94 Golden State Warriors

     

    Celtics at Jazz

    The Celtics (40-17) look for back-to-back wins when they visit the Utah Jazz (36-21) on Wednesday.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.