LOS ANGELES — Seconds before the game was a wrap Tuesday night with the Clippers up 12, forward Montrezl Harrell began signaling to the crowd to amp up the noise. Teammate Patrick Beverley dribbled the ball to the far right corner where he milked the clock, and when the final buzzer sounded for the Clippers’ 112-102 victory over the Lakers at Staples Center, he tossed the ball into the crowd.
This was the completion of a season opener unlike anything the city of Los Angeles has ever experienced and the first of four clashes with the Lakers as the Clippers begin the process of taking over the town.
“The moment they made the schedule, it was almost positioned as a prizefight,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
In Kawhi Leonard’s debut with the Clippers, he scored a game-high 30 points and added six rebounds, five assists and two steals to guide his team past one of the league’s marquee franchises.
But it wasn’t your typical Clippers home win.
When Leonard addressed the crowd before the tip, he was met with a shower of boos, along with applause.
“I just heard loud noise, so I was trying to be as loud as I could,” Leonard said. “I wasn’t sure if Clipper fans were being loud or 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 coming out tonight.”
This has always been Lakers territory since the franchise settled in Los Angeles in 1960 and proceeded to win 11 of their 16 NBA titles. But the behavior from the fans Tuesday night was a sign that the Clippers are now being taken as legitimate threats to the Lakers.
“I disagree on how big of a test it was. It’s the first game,” LeBron James said. “Obviously the NBA is back, and that’s what everyone is trying to [start], the narrative of a rivalry game and a huge test. Both teams are not who they want to be. … It’s not a rivalry. We’re trying to get better every single day on how we can be as great as we can be.”
Anthony Davis posted 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in his Lakers debut.
Throughout the contest, it had the feel of a passionate high school football crowd packed into a 19,000-seat venue. When each team would score, its fanbase erupted. It became a contest of which side could out-roar and out-chant the other.
With under five minutes remaining in the game and the Clippers clinging to a 10-point lead, Lakers fans started chanting, “Let’s go Lakers! Let’s go Lakers!” and it got louder and louder.
To kill that momentum, the Clippers’ PA announcer intervened and began the chant of “Go Clips Go! Go Clips Go!” This was a battle being fought around the 94-foot long, 50-foot wide hardwood court.
There was no clear-cut home feel, which is not the norm when these two teams usually face off. Even in the days when Chris Paul was throwing lobs to Blake Griffin, there was no comparison to Clippers fans’ excitement in the opener. There is a genuine belief from the organization and their fans that this team can potentially win it all.
In the locker room, Beverley — who had 10 boards and six assists while often tasked with defending James — addressed the media at his locker stall, and when it ended, he still wasn’t done.
The defensive specialist sat by himself and spoke out loud about how TV programs routinely show highlights of James in defeats, without discussing in depth the opponent that beat him. He challenged the media to report the facts instead of showing crossover highlights of one of the game’s best.
During training camp, both teams did their part in publicly downplaying a city rivalry. But there’s no denying that this is anything but a budding rivalry.
“It’s one game,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “We’ll get better.”
Paul George was on the bench with his team the entire game and was just as enthusiastic and animated as he would be if he weren’t rehabbing from two shoulder procedures.
The All-Star forward is expected to make his season debut in approximately three weeks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
James, who started at point guard and registered 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, changed shoes in the second half, going from the LeBron 17s to the LeBron 16s. He told Yahoo Sports he switched because he ripped one of the shoes’ tongues.
The four-time MVP also told Yahoo Sports he trimmed his weight for this season, but he wouldn’t reveal how much he lost.
“You know I’m not telling my weight,” he said.
For the first time entering an NBA season, the Clippers and Lakers are both considered championship-caliber teams and could possibly end up being the two best teams in the league.
It might have been just one game, but Tuesday night revealed the Clippers aren’t the little brothers of Los Angeles anymore. The Clippers have grown up and are now looking at the Lakers eye-to-eye.
Their quest to take over the city has begun.
More from Yahoo Sports: