LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Pipe in virtual fan and crowd noise. A head-to-head between two pre-final MVPs is played to smuggle real faces. A battle for Los Angeles, about 3,000 miles from the Staples Center.
Lakers 103, Clippers 101.
The NBA is back.
The end of the NBA’s season of resumption night finally took place on Thursday, and what a strange experience. A late-season Lakers-Clippers game would be near an unlikely ticket in Los Angeles. Fans will pack LAE live hours before tipoff. Scalpers would have a field day. In the bubble, witnesses to this marquee matchup were a dozen or so media members, a few more NBA employees and a handful of players who were eager to watch from socially distant seats.
Lawrence Tanter, the Lakers’ legendary public address announcer, provides pre-recorded introductions.
As time expired, the general game of the layers was played on the entertainment court screen.
for who, Of course, is a little unclear.
The broad social justice movement in America has been emphasized during the NBA restart, and continued on Thursday. The players were taken to the floor in a black T-shirt with a black Stewart mat on the front. Social justice messages changed the names on Jersey’s back. A two-minute video highlighting the movement that followed the warm-up. Hours ago, in a gym on a football field away, the Pelicans and Jazz knelt for the national anthem. The Lakers and Clippers did the same, adding arms while a pre-tapped rendition by Compton Kids Club bounced through speakers hung from the rafters.
As he kneeled, his 58-year-old knee pain, the mind of Clippers coach Doctor River, went to George Floyd, whose death on the knee of a Minnesota police officer ignited the movement.
“The hardest thing that happened to me in the game today was kneeling for two minutes,” Rivers said. “My knee must have hurt. In the midst of this, I’m thinking in two minutes that my knee is aching, yet there was a man who held the knee on someone’s neck for eight minutes. There were people who needed towels and things to get on their knees. And someone knelt on another human’s neck for eight minutes. It’s crazy when you think about it. “
The game, obviously, was not pretty. Nobody expected a three-week training camp and three scrimmages to eradicate the corrosive effects of the four-month interval. And it was not. The first quarter was inorganic. The two teams combined for 21 fouls. The Lakers made two-out of eight attempts. This is faster shooting than the Clippers, who missed all seven. Anthony Davis scored 14 points in the first quarter. The Lakers finished it with a 12-point lead.
Clippers could be folded. It has been a difficult month for LA’s second team. The roster is devastated by illness and outside issues. Two of the NBA’s top sixth men — Lou Williams and Montrell Hurrell — did not play. Marcus Morris arrived late. Ivica Zubac, diagnosed with COVID-19 at the end of June, returned to practice just this week. Patrick Beverley is still working to get back into the shape of the game.
The Clippers did not leave. He pushed the Lakers to ten points in the second quarter. He led by 11 points in the third quarter. He entered the fourth position. Paul George (30 points) and Kavi Leonard (28) captured nine, raining threes, over the Lakers defender.
A George triple gave up 28 seconds of play, and when again, you felt the oddness of the moment. A crowd of over 20,000 would roar in tie games, two Western Conference elites, and in normal times. Instead, the husky sound of rivers can be heard on the music. Beverley rejected the defensive instructions. When James tipped in his own miss with 13 seconds left, the only sound came from the Lakers bench.
Neither was James. Upon the Clippers’ final possession, James split himself into Leonard. Bottled, Leonard throws the ball to George. James released her. With James on his hip, George attempted an off-balance three-pointer, which went off.
One defensive possession, two elite defensive plays.
Not bad for the 35-year-old in his 17th season.
“The rhythm, as far as aggressively making shots, is going to take a little longer to get those things back,” James said. “But one thing you can do is rescue. You can always communicate … You can have teammates when you make a mistake. Communication on the defensive side is something that should always be on point. “
One game down, seven go to the playoffs and both teams know that there is work to do. Frank Vogel said, “To me, we’ve come a long way to reach the habits and discipline we used to follow with those habits and discipline when we entered the Hetus.” Conditioning remains a factor. Three-point shooting percentage will increase. The experience in the game will continue as an adjustment – videos of some 300 Lakers fans are given to watch the game – as would a game without the energy of a crowd.
“When we’re playing there, we don’t really notice that there are no fans in the game,” Davis said. He said, ‘We just go there and compete and try to win. They do a good job with crowd noise… but when we are competing outside, it is only the five of us… the more we use this area, the easier it will be. “
The game will not be beautiful. The atmosphere will be strange. But after four-months a global epidemic halted its season, the NBA is back. For the players, for the league, all that matters.