There was a noticeable buzz in the Thomas & Mack Center, and tipoff was still 45 minutes away.
The strange thing — the buzz centered on the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Lakers.
Clipper Nation, led by its biggest fan, "Clipper Darrell" Bailey, was out in full force with hundreds having traveled from Los Angeles on Interstate 15 to see the future of the woeful franchise.
And when Blake Griffin’s debut began with seven straight points, some of the Clippers fans among the 3,200 that were in the building were looking to the ceiling as if to say, "Thank you, God."
Griffin, the No. 1 pick in last month’s NBA Draft, insists he’s no savior. Monday, however, he did a pretty good imitation of one, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 30 minutes to lead the Clippers past their crosstown rivals, the Lakers 93-82 in the NBA Summer League.
"It felt like I was in a high-level college game," Griffin said. "I’m sure it will get more intense as we go along, but it was great to get back out there and shake some of the rust off."
Summer league officials thought they might get 6,000 for Griffin’s debut. They got a little more than half that, including NBA commissioner David Stern, who, like Griffin, was making his summer league debut.
"That was cool to have him there watching me," Griffin said of Stern. "I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the crowd. But it was a good turnout."
But unlike Stern, who left at halftime to prepare for today’s Board of Governors meeting at the Palms, Griffin stuck around until 38.5 seconds remained. He departed to a standing ovation.
Edwin Solano and Arnold Rodriguez were among those who made the trek across the desert from L.A. and stayed to the end. They said it was worth it.
"I just want him to play hard, be a dominant force down low and be the Blake Griffin he can be," Rodriguez said before the game.
Solano added: "He’s so athletic. He’s so aggressive. His game will carry over to the pros."
After a sensational first half, which saw Griffin score 16 points, including a rim-rattling slam dunk, and grab five rebounds, Rodriguez and Solano were even more excited.
"Surprised? Not really," Rodriguez said. "He’s the number one pick for a reason. I thought he’d have the jitters, but he’s a real pro.”
Solano said: "After that dunk, I believe. He’s the real deal."
The Clippers think so too.
General manager-coach Mike Dunleavy watched from next to owner Donald T. Sterling.
He didn’t want to dampen his fans’ enthusiasm in assessing Griffin’s performance.
"I just love the way he plays," Dunleavy said. "We’ve encouraged him to show his game and he did everything you could ask.
"There’s going to be a learning curve, but I think he’s going to be a very productive player for us."
Griffin said this is only the beginning.
"I didn’t show everything in my arsenal," he said. "I’m like everyone else. I’m trying to learn from my coaches and my teammates."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.BLAKE GRIFFIN’S DEBUT
Field goals: 11-15
Free throws: 4-8