After what felt like forever, the NBA is finally back. The Clippers opened their season up with a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Clippers came away with a 103-97 win, but there was a serious amount of takeaways from this game and fascinating story lines to follow.
First things first, Kawhi is back… kinda. Obviously, we know Kawhi is UBER careful about his body. The last actual game he played in was June of 2021. It’s been well over a calendar year since he’s played legitimate NBA basketball. Right before the game, it was announced that Kawhi would be coming off the bench. This overly cautious strategy reflects directly on the Clippers and Kawhi’s reluctance to aggravate Kawhi’s extremely fragile body. The second that Kawhi checked in during the 2nd Quarter, he immediately made his presence felt hitting two consecutive tough mid range buckets. The pop that Kawhi has sprinting up and down the floor is extremely encouraging for Clippers fans. Finishing with 14 points and 7 rebounds, Kawhi is back. It might take a while for him to fully acclimate, but like I said, extremely encouraging.
Now, with Kawhi returning and on a very unorthodox minutes restriction that prompts him to play more in the second half of the game, the roster rotations during the game were an absolute mess. There were some really choppy moments during the game where the Clippers would see a double-digit lead completely vanish multiple times. With that being said, the Clippers are built for moments like this with a roster deeper than an almost any other team in the NBA. Multiple players stepped up to the occasion and helped the Clippers secure the W.
Another huge storyline from this game was John Wall’s debut as a Clipper. Man, it’s hard to not get excited about what he brings to the table. He pushes the ball with pace that the Clippers have been seriously lacking and hit multiple timely tough shots. Finishing with 15 points and 3 assists off the bench, Wall is proving to be an invaluable piece to this squad.
I want to take the time to give a massive shoutout to the anchor in the middle for the Clippers. That anchor is none other than Mr. Ivica Zubac. The 7-footer was absolutely dominant finishing with 14 points, 17 rebounds, and 5 blocks. One of the most underrated centers in the league, don’t be surprised if we see Zubac appear on an All-NBA Defensive Team at the end of this season. Big props to the big man from Croatia.
Overall, it was an ugly game. With that being said, a win is a win. In a year when the Western Conference is stacked, I’ll take an ugly win ten times out of ten. After the game Kawhi was in a press conference and was asked about his approach coming off the bench. Quite simply, Leonard said that he needs to “be great in his minutes.” This selfless attitude is the difference between a playoff-contending team and a championship-contending team. That’s the best part about this Clippers squad. There’s no hero ball. Led by an incredible example from their stars in PG and Kawhi, the Clippers hav established a culture where everyone roots for the success of the entire squad, not just themselves as individuals. It’s truly exciting to watch and I cannot wait for the season to progress.