The departure of six Clippers players at Thursday’s trade deadline, including leading-scorer Tobias Harris, signaled a significant shift for a team hanging on the cusp of the Western Conference postseason standings. They also acquired four draft picks and five new players, getting younger in the process. It’s certainly too early to say what this will mean for the Clippers to close out the season, but generally, such a shift means a team is preparing for youth development and the NBA draftlottery. But the Clippers’ front office has the playoffs still in sight, and tonight was a clear example of what we might come to expect going forward.
Coming into the night, it was announced that newcomers Landry Shamet, Garrett Temple, JaMychal Green, and Ivica Zubac would all be playing for the first time with the Clippers. On the road, against the red-hot Boston Celtics (8-2 in their prior 10 games), while integrating 4 new players, the Clippers might as well have expected a schedule loss and played as such. But they had other plans in mind.
Credit the Clippers’ front office, credit the coaching of Doc Rivers, credit the absolutely stellar play of some fresh faces in a difficult matchup, credit whoever you want. The Clippers pulled out a double-digit win after trailing by 28 points late in the first half, mounting the largest comeback in franchise history. Only a week ago, the Clippers came back from a 25-point deficit against the Detroit Pistons, then the largest comeback win in the team’s regular season history. And the new guys made all the difference.
While Montrezl Harrell (21 points, 6 rebounds) and and Danilo Gallinari (19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) led the way for the Clippers, it was the dynamic shift created by Landry Shamet (17 points, 3 assists, 4-7 from beyond the arc), Ivica Zubac (12 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks), and Garrett Temple (11 points in 20 minutes on 50% shooting from the field) that really changed things for the Clippers.
Shamet was without a doubt the star of the night, creating reason for excitement beyond his excellent shooting. At just 21 years of age in his rookie season, Shamet adds a new wrinkle to the Clippers offense which they’ve needed desperately all season long: a shooter who moves well off the ball. He’s too good a shooter to allow any air space, and he’s quick and crafty enough to keep defenses scrambling. And just as quickly as he can move around the half court and find his spots, he can square up and release automatically. Shamet had four 4th quarter threes, giving the Clippers the momentum and edge to close out so strong. It’s also worth mentioning he’s on a very inexpensive rookie contract, on the books for three more seasons after this one. Clippers fans have great reason to be excited about the future of Shamet with this team.
Zubac, also just 21 years of age, was immediately thrust into the starting lineup tonight, a tall task for the developing center. Much like Shamet, Zubac added a new wrinkle to the Clippers at both ends of the floor: a more traditional center who can provide offensive efficiency at one end of the floor and rim protection at the other end. Zubac provided excellent production tonight in just 23 minutes of action, as well, meaning his production isn’t likely to inhibit that of Montrezl Harrell going forward.
Garrett Temple, now the elder statesman of this Clippers roster, was also thrust into the starting lineup in his first game with the team. Temple is a high-character, high-IQ player who can still regularly produce effectively in small sample sizes just as he did in tonight’s matchup. Despite the early massive deficit, his outside shooting and defensive recognition helped the Clippers to keep the deficit a bit more manageable than it might have been otherwise. Most importantly, though, he looked very fluid and fit very seamlessly into a rotation he’s only just met.
For all the talk about the newcomers, though, Patrick Beverley’s defensive intensity deserved high praise in tonight’s matchup. He was certainly effective all-around offensively (12 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals), but his spirit and communication at the other end of the floor was infectious and seemed to ignite the rest of the group. His playmaking ability, his strength, and his assertive will should help the Clippers immensely down the stretch this season.
For the Celtics, this loss was a tough one. It should be noted that it’s possible that we might be discussing a different result had it not been for the second-half absence of Kyrie Irving, who left the game during the 2nd quarter after suffering a right knee sprain. Kyrie’s absence, Jayson Tatum’s late game foul trouble, and Al Horford’s offensive inefficiency all hurt the Celtics, but it shouldn’t absolve them of a 39-point swing by the Clippers.
The Clippers finished the night with 8 players in double-digit scoring, along with 28 assists on 40 made field goals. They shot 47.6% from the field, 40% from beyond the arc, and 77.5% from the free throw line, also out-rebounding the Celtics 43-37. It was a complete win, a great welcome for the new faces on this squad, and an encouraging sign of things to come. This was certainly one game Clippers fans won’t forget.