LOS ANGELES • Kawhi Leonard was not sure if it was Lakers fans booing him or the Clippers fans cheering for him in the introductions before the clash of Los Angeles' A-listers in front of a sold-out crowd of split allegiances.
What was clear was that the new boy led the Clippers to upstage LeBron James and Co. 112-102 in the National Basketball Association's (NBA) season-opener at the Staples Centre on Tuesday night.
The forward missed his first two shots and turned the ball over twice, mirroring his team's disastrous first four minutes offensively.
Then he made seven consecutive shots and assisted on two others to turn an 11-point deficit into a second-quarter lead. He finished with a game-high 30 points, six rebounds and five assists.
"It was great. A lot of emotions, game one," said Leonard, who grew up in Riverside, 80km east of Los Angeles. "I am just happy we came out and got a victory. We had great practices and had some carry-over from that tonight."
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was thrilled with his new acquisition, who led Toronto to their first NBA title last season, saying he "talks with his game". He added: "That's the way it should be. He was intense. You could feel that. There's no doubt about that."
The Clippers attacked the rim, forced easy turnovers, used a stingy defence to keep James and his new sidekick Anthony Davis in check.
Reserve guard Lou Williams contributed 21 points and power forward Montrezl Harrell tallied 17 points and seven rebounds.
Points scored by LA Clippers ace Kawhi Leonard, against 18 by LA Lakers star LeBron James, in the Clippers' 112-102 NBA victory on Tuesday.
Every one of their bench players reached double figures as they outscored the Lakers reserves 60-19.
Williams, who outscored the Lakers reserves by himself, said that the Clippers did not want to just win. He noted that they are tired of playing second fiddle to the Lakers and wanted nothing more than to dominate their city rivals.
"We always play with a chip on our shoulder," he said. "For the last two months all the talk has been about the Lakers versus the Clippers.
"We hear that we are the junior varsity team, or little brother, or whatever. We are pros too. That's why we have a chip on our shoulder."
Danny Green led the opponents with 28 points. Davis downed eight-of-21 for 25 points and James shot seven-of-19 for 18 points for the Lakers who are hoping their off-season changes will boost the team's fortunes after they finished a disappointing 37-45 and failed to qualify for the post-season for the sixth season in a row.
"It is the first game," said James.
"The NBA's back and everyone's trying to have the narrative of it's a rivalry game and it was a huge test.
"We have a lot of room to improve. We are a new group with a new system. We did some good things and we did some not-so-good things. We look forward to getting some film and seeing some of the mistakes we made."
The two LA teams made some of the most significant changes but the Clippers appear to have added more value.
Thanks to the addition of Leonard and Oklahoma City's Paul George, who was injured but in attendance in a tuxedo jacket and bow tie, the Clippers are one of the early front runners for the title.
The one bright spot for the Lakers was Toronto old boy Green, who hit 10 of his 14 field-goal attempts, including seven of nine from beyond the arc.
Davis said he and James will need time to get used to each other on the court.
"We are both aggressive so sometimes we miss each other," he said. "We are still learning and just trying to figure it out. This is game one of many."
The Clippers will travel to Golden State today. Warriors coach Steve Kerr has confirmed that All-Star guard Klay Thompson is unlikely to play this season after he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in April. They are not risking re-injury by playing him before he is 100 per cent healthy.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA