George scores 33, Clippers beat Lakers 116-109 on ring night

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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, right, is defended by Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES – After the Los Angeles Lakers got their championship rings, the Los Angeles Clippers gave a performance that showed this retooled team is determined to contend for its own jewelry several months from now.

Paul George scored 26 of his 33 points in the second half, Kawhi Leonard added 26 points and the Los Angeles Clippers rallied past the Los Angeles Lakers on the NBA champions’ ring ceremony night for a 116-109 victory Tuesday.

George went 13 of 18 with five 3-pointers in an outstanding first game since agreeing to add four years and $190 million to his contract with the Clippers, who never trailed in the latest meeting of Southern California’s two NBA powerhouses. The Clippers beat the Lakers in the season opener for the second straight year while winning coach Tyronn Lue’s debut.

The Clippers stayed in their locker room while the Lakers received their rings, but they emerged with purpose and determined play — from their two superstars in particular.

“Our focus was on us,” Lue said. “The Lakers, they deserved that ring. They had a great year, and you can’t take nothing away from them. Our focus wasn’t really on the Lakers. They were the best team last year, so congratulations to them again, but now we’re moving on.”

LeBron James scored 22 points and Anthony Davis had 18 for the Lakers just 72 days after they finished off the Miami Heat in the NBA bubble. James said he turned his ankle “pretty good” in the second half, leading him to play just 28 minutes.

“I’m happy today is over with and we can focus on the season, but it’s just a lot to process,” James said. “It felt weird having a basketball game today.”

The Lakers returned from the shortest offseason in league history and celebrated the franchise's 17th title, but they couldn't keep up with George and Leonard down the stretch. Lakers coach Frank Vogel also limited James' playing time and kept Davis to 31 minutes, anticipating the long grind ahead on his veterans after a 10-week offseason.