Chris Paul does the second show of a two-night stand in his Los Angeles homecoming when he and the Oklahoma City Thunder change opponents to take on the Lakers on Tuesday night.
Paul returned to L.A. with the Thunder for the first time Monday night and literally nearly stole the show against his old team, the Clippers. His late steal gave Oklahoma City a lead in the final minute, but Paul George walked away the hero in a 90-88 win for the hometown club.
George sank the winning 3-pointer with 25.9 seconds left.
Paul, a five-time All-Star in six seasons with the Clippers from 2011-12 to 2016-17, shared the spotlight with former L.A. teammates Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on Monday. The latter two were the headliners sent east when the Thunder dealt George to the Clippers in July.
Paul finished with 22 points, Gallinari 14 and Gilgeous-Alexander 11 in the heartbreaking loss on the road against one of the West’s top teams.
“We are at a good point,” Gallinari noted on the eve of the two-game sequence. “We have a long season ahead of us, and along the way we have a lot of things that we need to work on and get better, so it’s just the beginning now.”
Paul never played for the Lakers, but they will be forever linked. The then-New Orleans Hornets agreed to send their star to the Lakers in a three-team deal in 2011, only to have then-commissioner David Stern step in and veto the transaction.
Not long thereafter, the Hornets completed a deal with the Clippers for Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and a first-round pick that turned into Austin Rivers.
Eight years later, the Lakers finally got their superstar from New Orleans, but it turned out to be Anthony Davis. The cost was much higher than what they’d agreed to pay for Paul, as the package for Davis included three players and three first-round picks.
Ten days later, Paul was traded from Houston to Oklahoma City along with four first-round picks for Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers rarely had much luck with the Westbrook-led Thunder, going just 7-21 in the past eight seasons. But that was also before L.A. employed Davis, and mostly before the Lakers had imported LeBron James from Cleveland.
James was out of action with a groin injury when the Thunder beat the Lakers 107-100 in their only Staples Center meeting last season. George (37 points) and Westbrook (triple-double) contributed 51 points, 20 rebounds, 12 assists and six steals to the win.
James is fully healthy for this year’s first visit, having recorded five straight double-doubles. He is averaging 28.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in his past three contests.
Paul’s return is likely to attract some of L.A.’s rich and famous to courtside seats. James can only hope to be inspired as much as he was Sunday, when Lakers legend Kobe Bryant occupied one of the spots.
“It was fantastic,” James said after the game. “Just knowing what he meant to this franchise, to L.A., and for me and my teammates, what it means to be a part of Laker Nation and (the) Laker family, is a beautiful thing.
“For me, I grew up watching, admiring. I was one of the kids that had the chance to come straight out of high school. He did it, so I was just watching him.”
Davis has been bothered by a sore shoulder of late, but he nonetheless managed to contribute 17 and 14 points respectively to the Lakers’ two most recent wins — Friday against the Sacramento Kings and Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Lakers have won four in a row.
The clubs meet again Friday in Oklahoma City in a rare NBA home-and-home sequence.
–Field Level Media