Lonzo Ball made his highly-anticipated NBA debut on Thursday, and that made Patrick Beverley turn up the intensity just a bit.

The Los Angeles Lakers selected Lonzo Ball second overall in this 2017 draft after seeing shades of Magic Johnson, and they felt he was the player who could lead them back to showtime status. Zo didn’t have the debut that Magic had, but patience is vital. He finished with three points, four assists and nine rebounds. Ball also got acquainted with Los Angeles Clippers bulldog Patrick Beverley, and he did everything in his power to make the rookie’s debut miserable. And it started way before the game.

Back in September, the never-softspoken LaVar Ball mentioned his son alongside Stephen Curry, the two-time NBA MVP. “I bet you Steph Curry won’t go over there and try to guard him,” said Ball on ESPN’s First Take. “Guaranteed. You’ll see it.” The NBA on TNT Twitter account created a graphic and tweeted it on Sep. 15 and Beverley didn’t miss the opportunity to go viral.

“But imma guard him the first game and we will see about that!!!” It generated 35,000-plus retweets and 76,000-plus likes. Beverley’s same mentality helped get the Clippers a 108-92 victory on opening night.

From the tip-off, Pat Bev had his heart set on welcoming the rookie to the NBA. It was the same bothersome, pesky defense that made Beverley first-team All-Defense last year, and you know he didn’t miss the chance to remind the crowd.

Not even midway through the first quarter, with the Clippers up 11-4, Beverley gave Lonzo a taste of how guys are going to attack him each night. Zo had barely crossed halfcourt before Beverley leaned into him on a pass attempt to Brandon Ingram. He collapsed to the hardwood. The officials called a foul, and the Lakers took the ball out of bounds along the sideline. I don’t know just how hard Beverley hit Ball, but it must’ve rattled him enough because the UCLA standout committed a turnover immediately after. He ran into the backcourt to collect the inbound pass. That’s not allowed in the big leagues.

Beverley’s antics and flair for the dramatic make him the captain of the “Guys You Hate Playing Against But Love Playing With” team. His style of defense is old school, and he would’ve fit in just fine during the 1980s and 90s. There’s trash talk, jersey grabbing, name calling, arm-pulling, violation of personal space and just about anything else you can think of when it comes to trying to break the morale of your opponent. Ball, to his credit, stayed stoic the entire time. There was one play, though, that was the apex. Unfortunately, Lonzo was attached to it.

With a bit more than four minutes until halftime, the Clippers were up 44-34. Ball dribbled upcourt and tried to crossover from left-to-right in front of Beverley. The league’s gnat, who the Clippers list at 6-1, put his hand in the cookie jar and picked Lonzo clean. He streaked down the court and beat Brook Lopez to the bucket, where he casually laid in an uncontested layup. As Beverley retreated, he held up his index finger and yelled “first team!” three times, a reminder to everyone about where he landed on the NBA’s All-Defensive team.

Ball, who’s been dealing with a nagging ankle injury, couldn’t replicate Beverley’s defensive effort. In 24 minutes, Mr. 94 Feet scored 10 points and put Zo’s explosiveness and mobility to the test.

At the end of the night, three things were clear:

  1. The Clippers, powered by Blake Griffin’s 29 points and 12 boards, are still the best team in Los Angeles.
  2. Patrick Beverley is just as annoying as he is elite, but he had good intentions. (He’s also got a potty mouth. Don’t let your kids listen to him during a telecast.)
  3. The Lakers offense was putrid, and Lonzo Ball is going to struggle. What we’re not going to do is start labeling him a bust. It’s too early for that.

Even after the game, Beverley had to get in some more name-calling. According to Arash Markazi, he shouted “Fucking win. Weak ass motherfuckers. Don’t put that mother fucker on me,” as he walked to the locker room. That’s peak Beverley who’s had some Gary Payton injected into him. Beverley explained the method to his madness once he settled down.

“He’s a great talent, but he’s got to go through the tough times,” he said. “I just had to set the tone, man, due to all the riff-raff his dad brings. … Had to welcome his little young ass to the NBA.”

Oct 19, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) reacts after an offensive foul during the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) reacts after an offensive foul during the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

There are only a handful of great defenders in the league. For the most part, we show love to all of them. Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard and Andre Roberson are near the top, and they’re always the guys mentioned when it comes to locking down the premier forwards and centers. The list gets smaller once we move to the backcourt. Outside of Beverley, Tony Allen and Chris Paul are arguably the only other genuinely elite guards on that end. These three gentlemen have all the tangibles and intangibles it takes to be a lockdown defender. They’re just as tenacious as they are skilled. More importantly, they bring it every possession. And that’s what keeps a lot of guards (I’m looking at you, John Wall) from becoming standouts.

As Beverley said, because of LaVar, opponents are going to be just a bit more extra than usual, and there are a bunch of point guards who would salivate at the chance of guarding someone who’s seemingly been put on a pedestal. Someone like Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard would bring the same energy as Beverley, and neither of those guys is an elite defender. It’s now up to Lonzo to rise to the challenge.

I (jokingly) overreacted to Ben Simmons’ rookie debut and could’ve done the same for Ball. I could’ve slandered him. I could’ve written 1,000 words on how he’s going to be a bust. That’s just not fair to him. Even when talking about Simmons, I didn’t anoint him the next great player but instead alluded to the potential that he has. Lonzo didn’t dazzle on Thursday, and I feel it’s because he wasn’t aggressive. As a defender, it’s much easier to guard someone when you know they aren’t looking for their shot. Now, Lonzo Ball knows what he’s going up against. He may even thank Patrick Beverley one day. 

Start a conversation with me on Twitter