The exhibition game had been over for a few minutes but as he pivoted to leave an on-court television interview, Patrick Beverley locked onto his next target.
It was a Clippers employee holding a video camera, and Beverley stalked his direction as though he were one of the many Sydney Kings guards he’d poked, jawed with and harassed all afternoon in the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center.
He veered away at the last moment before darting through a tunnel leading to the locker room, but not before unleashing a roar into the camera whose message was at once unintelligible and unmistakable.
Did you expect anything less from Beverley, 10 months after his last NBA game?
Beverley had 12 points and five assists, four rebounds and three steals in the Clippers’ preseason opener, a 110-91 victory over the Sydney Kings, his first game since suffering a season-ending right knee injury 11 games into last season. During the five days of training camp in Hawaii that preceded the victory, players and coaches repeated a belief that the team could lead the league in pestering, if such a defensive category existed.
Beverley’s defense is at the heart of that big-picture confidence, just as his defense was at the core of Sunday’s result.
The Kings turned the ball over 26 times, which turned into 26 Clippers points. The Clippers didn’t give up a basket during a three-minute stretch in the third quarter during which Beverley poked away two steals.
“We got to understand we’re not going to go 82-0, we understand that,” Beverley said. “We also understand that you’re not just going to come beat us up. It’s going to be a dogfight every night and if we leave it like that we put ourself in position to win all the games.”
Tobias Harris had a team-high 20 points and 11 rebounds and, in a game in which the Clippers made only nine of 33 three-point shots, Harris made four of his seven from behind the arc.
Danilo Gallinari scored 19 points for the Clippers.
Both forwards brought the ball upcourt regularly as part of an offense that coach Doc Rivers hopes will be less guard-dominated than in recent seasons.
The Clippers assisted on 31 of 41 baskets.
“In the first half, even though we had a lot of points, I didn’t think we had great spacing and I didn’t think the ball was popping,” Rivers said. “In the second half it was fantastic. The floor opened up. I thought defensively obviously as the game went on we were better.”
“It’s obviously a first preseason game and you want to go out and have fun and implement things we’ve been going over in the last few days of camp,” Harris said. “We put stock into it, of course.”
Guard Milos Teodosic, who sat out the previous two practices because of a hamstring injury, took part in a pregame workout but did not play as a precaution, Rivers said. All other players were said to be healthy and they stayed that way. Montrezl Harrell checked out after 20 minutes holding his hand but he’s fine, the team said.
The Clippers’ next preseason game is Wednesday against Minnesota at Staples Center and will feature a lineup of younger players as Sunday was designed to play the veterans.
That made it all the more important for the 30-year-old Beverley to make an impression in his return.
He was one of few Clippers able to stick with Kings guard Jerome Randle, a friend since sixth grade in Chicago, who finished with 25 points and punctuated nearly every basket with a yell. Rivers, his attention piqued, approached Randle at the scorer’s table to ask the fellow Chicagoan what high school he played at and whether he’d ever played Rivers’ alma mater.
“Beat their ...,” Randle said, and Rivers laughed.
The 5-foot-9 guard couldn’t take down the Clippers alone.
Randle beat Beverley off the dribble early in the first quarter but his friend rose from behind to block the shot.
Beverley shook his head as if to say, not today.
“It felt good to be back, man,” he said.