“It just felt good to win,” said Clarkson, who came off the bench to score 23 of his 25 points in the second half as the Lakers tipped off the Luke Walton era on a high note, beating the Houston Rockets 120-114 in the season opener for both teams at Staples Center.
Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell added 20 points, while Julius Randle chipped in 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Lakers, who made a winner of Walton in his debut as coach.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we got the job done,” said Clarkson, who converted 8 of 12 attempts, 2 of 3 on 3-pointers and all seven of his foul shots. “It was the first one. I feel like as the season progresses we’ll do a better job of coming together and making the most of each possession.”
Rockets guard James Harden finished with a game-high 34 points and a career-best 17 assists. Harden also had eight rebounds. Eric Gordon contributed 19 points, Clint Capela scored 16 and grabbed nine rebounds, and Ryan Anderson scored 14 points for the Rockets.
“In order for us to get wins, we have to lock in defensively,” said Harden, who made 9 of 19 shots and only 1 of 7 3-point attempts. Harden hit 15 of 16 free throws.
“First quarter, first half, shake the rust off,” he said. “But that second half we didn’t get stops when we needed to, and they made big shots.”
Two Clarkson free throws lifted Los Angeles to a 108-104 lead with 6:41 remaining. However, Harden converted a pair of foul shots with 3:53 left to knot the score at 110.
After Russell’s two foul shots boosted the Lakers to a 113-112 advantage with 2:47 left, the home team never trailed again.
“The guys really fought tonight,” Walton said. “A big part of what we are trying to do here is develop this identity, this culture.”
Clarkson said the Lakers’ ability to execute in the final two minutes of the game was the difference.
“Our small lineup worked,” Clarkson said. “We did a good job of talking and switching. Nick (Young) really was our leader on defense. He did a great job on James (Harden) all night.”
The Rockets, who led by as many as 10 points, grabbed a 71-63 edge at halftime. They connected on 64.4 percent of their shots, compared to 53.2 percent for the Lakers, before the break. Houston hit 46.2 percent of its 3-pointers to 35 percent for Los Angeles.
Overall, the Rockets outshot the Lakers 51.2 percent to 50.6 percent. From behind the 3-point arc, the Lakers made 12 of 35 (34.3 percent) to only 7 of 29 (24.1 percent) for the Rockets.
“We just missed, and that’s basketball,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers’ former coach. “The only thing I told them was, ‘The only thing that has been determined tonight is we’re not going to win 82 games. You throw it away and go to the next one.”
Harden had 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 14 assists by intermission.
Russell, Randle and Timofey Mozgov scored 12 apiece for the Lakers in the opening 24 minutes. Mozgov was held scoreless in the second half.
In the third quarter, the Lakers tied the score at 88 on a 3-pointer by Clarkson with 1:25 left. However, Harden delivered Houston’s final eight points of the quarter for a 96-90 advantage heading into the final period.
Brandon Ingram, selected by the Lakers with the second overall pick in this year’s draft, finished with nine points and three rebounds in 24 minutes during his professional debut.
NOTES: Lakers coach Luke Walton admitted to being anxious before his first game. “There’s definitely nerves and excitement right now, but there’s no time to think about how incredible this is,” said Walton, whose father, former NBA star Bill Walton, sat in on the pregame media session wearing a Lakers T-shirt. … Rockets G Patrick Beverley, who had successful arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Tuesday, will be re-evaluated within three weeks, according to club officials. … Lakers G Jose Calderon missed the game due to a slight left calf strain. His status is day-to-day. … Both clubs resume play Friday. The Rockets visit the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers begin a four-game trip with a game at Utah.