What’s telling about this season’s growing collection of comebacks and late-game stress tests passed: The Clippers trust their work – and Tyronn Lue’s gut.
That’s true whether their head coach is going small with Nicolas Batum or Marcus Morris down low, or more traditional, with Ivica Zubac. Whether Lue’s giving the ball to Amir Coffey or Terance Mann or Luke Kennard or calling on Reggie Jackson – aka “Big Government” – for a timely bailout.
Whatever lever Lue is pulling – and doing it without injured All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George available to serve as automatic pressure-release valves – he knows he has his players’ support.
Because it so often works.
His never-say-die Clippers – who are 23-24 after rallying from a 24-point mid-third-quarter deficit Friday to win 102-101 in Philadelphia – have outscored their opponents by 38 points in 87 “clutch” minutes this season. That’s what the NBA defines as the time of the game that the score is within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
Their 129.9 offensive rating so far in clutch minutes is second-best in the league (behind Phoenix’s 133.6) – and the best by a Clippers team since, well, at least 1996-97, which is as far back as the NBA.com/stats page makes that statistic available.
And their plus-17.6 net rating (or by how many points they’re estimated to outscore an opponent over 100 possessions) is third-best in the NBA. That’s the team’s best mark since 2005-06, when they posted a plus-21.3 net rating in 148 clutch minutes.
“I think for one, I have earned those guys’ trust,” Lue said Friday night, after the Clippers outscored the 76ers 22-12 in the final six minutes of play – and, once L.A. got the deficit to fewer than five, 14-10 in the final 4:20.
“They believe in me a little bit. A lot of bit maybe,” Lue said. “When you try different things, do different things, they understand it’s for the best of the team and it is not for me or anybody else. I just want to win the game for that night. After that, we can take care of whatever we got to do the next game.
“I am always trying to win for tonight. I think I have earned these guys’ trust enough just to try different things, try to find the right combinations no matter who it might be.”
Jackson is the late-game mainstay, leading the team with 79 clutch minutes – in which he’s shot 18 for 41 (43.9%) and 6 for 14 (42.9%) from 3-point range, and gotten to the line for 25 free throws, making 20. He’s also recorded 20 assists and just five turnovers with the game in the balance.
“He’s definitely big at the end of games,” Lue said on Jan. 11, not long after Jackson’s authoritative dunk on reigning MVP Nikola Jokic with about four minutes left helped cement the Clippers’ 25-point comeback victory that night.
“Like, those are the moments, he lives for. So once we were able to cut the lead and get the game under control and cut it to two, when he came in that was his time to shine. He’s made big shots for us since he’s been here, and then to kind of control and take over the game at the end was huge for us.”
Jackson said he and his teammates are good both at rallying and at executing in the most crucial moments, when “a lot of games are won or lost,” because they trust their preparation.
“Belief. Honestly, belief and work,” Jackson said. “I’ve been part of teams where we might lose the same way but you’re not necessarily putting in the work, so you feel like you’re getting what you’re deserving … on this side, there’s not a guy on this team that we’re in the locker room, not even a coach … not putting in their effort.
“Sometimes when you take it on a chin and you get beat down, it’s easy to pick back up because it feels like we have a good foundation … I think that’s the biggest thing, we’ve been able to stay resilient and stay together because the organization has filled our locker room with hard workers and great guys who are going to put in the time.”
CLIPPERS (23-24) at KNICKS (22-24)
When: 10 a.m. PT Sunday
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/Radio: Bally Sports SoCal / 570 AM
19 PTS | 8-14 FG | 9 AST
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) January 22, 2022