Welcome to the Morning Shootaround, where every weekday you’ll get a fresh, topical column from one of SI.com’s NBA writers: Howard Beck on Mondays, Chris Mannix on Tuesdays, Michael Pina on Wednesdays, Chris Herring on Thursdays and Rohan Nadkarni on Fridays.
It’s hard not to compare the 2020–21 Clippers with last season’s colossal disappointment. When you watch them now—the first group in franchise history to make the conference finals after two straight 0–2 series comebacks (and possibly a third on the way)—there are several new faces, a new head coach and, outwardly, a resilient confidence that appears to have washed away any intrapersonal conflicts that festered until they collapsed against the Nuggets.
But perhaps the most consequential divergence from last year’s squad is one player: Terance Mann, the frantic, ebullient 24-year-old who exploded for 39 points last weekend in the biggest win any Clippers team has ever had.
Even though he was technically on the roster, Mann didn’t play any meaningful minutes inside the bubble. Today, he’s the youthful, spontaneous ball of energy they’ve apparently always needed, a 6' 5" wing who can hit spot-up threes, drill coast-to-coast pull-ups, attack the paint and guard multiple positions. Even before Kawhi Leonard sprained his knee, Mann had already run away with the opportunity he’d been given. In the playoffs, his true shooting percentage is fifth highest among all players who’ve logged at least 250 minutes, and he’s turned the ball over only twice—something no guard in playoff history who’s played as much as Mann has can say.
On Wednesday afternoon, Sports Illustrated spoke to Mann about his breakout run, playing for Ty Lue, living inside the nonstop roller coaster ride that is this Clippers postseason and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sports Illustrated: I want to start with your reaction to Tuesday’s game. Obviously, it didn’t go how you guys wanted. But it had a wild ending: There were multiple reviews, you’re subbing in and out at the end, the lead is going back and forth. What was it like being part of that, and what was the locker room like after it ended?
Terance Mann: It was pretty crazy. It definitely didn’t end how we thought it was going to, but the locker room was still positive. You know, guys still believe, obviously. This isn’t the first time we’ve been in this position down 0–2. So we’re not panicking.
SI: Can you walk me through learning that you’d start in Game 5 against Utah after Kawhi went down? You're replacing one of the best players in the NBA in a pivotal playoff game. Did you have nerves? What was going through your mind?
TM: Nah, I wasn’t that nervous, only because it’s not the first time this season that I had to start in place of Kawhi or PG, so, you know, I’ve been there before. My teammates know we’ve been there before. So it was almost like routine. So not too many nerves, just knew I had to lock in and be a little bit more aggressive just because my role was going to be a little bit different. Then let the chips fall where they fell.
SI: How would you describe how your role shifts in a spot like that?
TM: I just gotta be more aggressive. When things like that go down, just be more aggressive offensively and defensively. I know I’m gonna be guarding the other team’s best player, so I'm gonna be locked in defensively. Always gotta be ready to execute the game plan at all times. And, you know, there’s little room for mistakes for me when I’m out there.
SI: In Game 6 against the Jazz you had the biggest night of your career and one of the most impressive games in this entire postseason. What do you remember about it?
TM: I just remember that the game before, Rudy kept leaving me wide open. And I knew that in Game 6 I was going to have to make shots and take shots, and that’s exactly what I did. And I knew whether if I was missing or not, I would have to still take them throughout the whole game, so I just kept shooting. And they kept going in. I just kept going until I felt like somebody was gonna stop me, but they never did. They just let me do my thing. So it was pretty cool.
SI: Were you surprised at all during the game that they were not making any significant adjustment to take those looks away?
TM: I think they just couldn’t help it because that’s how they’ve been playing all year. You know, that’s them. And that’s what got them in first place. But they just never ran into a team that has someone confident enough to just say, you know what, we’re gonna trust that you’re gonna make these shots, and we’re just gonna keep giving you the ball.
SI: Afterward, you did a post-game TV interview beside Paul George, and he said that you remind him of him. What did you make of that?
TM: That was pretty cool. It’s not the first time I’ve heard him say it, but I can see that for sure. Early on in his career he hesitated shooting threes and stuff like that. He was relying on just getting downhill, kinda like myself early on. And then he had to transition his game and become more of a dynamic scorer at all three levels. That’s exactly what I’m trying to get to. And he sees me getting better at it and working on it. So I see why he said what he said.
SI: Your mom is a former player and longtime coach. She recently said that Ty Lue has been really good for you. What’s been your favorite part about playing for him this season?
TM: It’s just been awesome to have a coach that believes in all his players up and down the roster. You know, there’s been plenty of times this season where he looked to the bench. He even looked at the third-string guys and put us in in crucial times and just said, “Play your game. I believe in you.” And when you have a head coach like that, at this level, who believes in all his players like that, it brings the best out of everyone. Playing for a guy like that has been great for us this year. I think that’s what’s gotten us this far.
SI: I know you haven’t been in the league forever, but when you talk to other guys on the team, do you get a sense that he’s doing things other coaches might not do?
TM: Most definitely. A lot of guys on the team speak highly of Ty Lue. [They’ll say,] “There’s not many coaches out there like him. Don’t take him for granted. Be appreciative,” and use as much of him as I can now because you never know what you’ll get down the road.
SI: Ty is pragmatic and clearly unafraid of adjustments, either strategically or to his rotation. I’m sure you’re a creature of habit, and you would love to know when you’re getting in a game and how many minutes you're going to play every night.
SI: But they’ve fluctuated. Your minutes in the first round were relatively sparse until Game 7. Then you played nine total minutes in the first two games against the Jazz. Then, after starting three straight games, in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals you and Nic Batum came off the bench. Does Lue talk to you individually and let you know what to expect in terms of your spot in the rotation and what he wants from you on any given night? Or is it more unpredictable from game to game and it’s on you to adjust?
TM: No, he definitely talks to us. He lets us know what he’s gonna go with, and he gives you a great reason why. He never leaves guys out on an island just guessing, because he wants all his players to be mentally ready for what's going down, especially this late in the season. In the Western Conference finals you want all your guys to be on the same page, everybody to be locked in, so he definitely communicates to everyone. He called me and Nic Batum the night before and let us know why he was making the change and what he was gonna do. For the most part we were in a great position to win the game, so Ty Lue is a great coach and we're gonna continue to play hard for him for the remainder of the season.
SI: What did Lue say when he told you why you and Batum were getting benched in favor of Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac?
TM: It was a strategic move, just because Ayton is tough to guard when we're playing small ball. Zubac is great and Pat Beverley does such a great job guarding Devin Booker. So just those two adjustments.
SI: You guys have excelled in these playoffs when you lean into the smaller units. You switch and trap and scramble on defense. How does your mentality change when you look around and there’s no center on your team on the floor?
TM: It definitely changes in the fact that you know you gotta get rebounds. And that’s the tough part when you’re playing small ball. You're getting stops, but it’s hard to prevent the other team’s bigs from getting those rebounds after you do get the stops. So you just kind of gotta mentally man up and know that you gotta try and rebound. For example, last shot of the game [Tuesday] night—well, second-to-last shot—Mikal Bridges misses a three and I'm battling with Ayton under the rim trying to grab the rebound. 50-50 call, you know, they give it to the Suns, whatever. But situations like that are not easy, when you're battling with a guy who outweighs and is way taller than you.
SI: You were forced to switch onto Dario Saric in Game 2, and those matchups didn't look easy. But offensively you screen and dive and play four-on-three sometimes. I don’t know if you’ve ever done stuff like that on a regular basis or played that type of role before in your life, but is it challenging for you?
TM: At first, early in the season, it was difficult. But I got used to it. Watched a lot of film on it. So now I’m pretty much used to it. All the guys are used to it. We do a lot of guard-to-guard pick-and-rolls, so all the guys are used to going up there, setting screenings, rolling, diving, trying to make something happen out of it. But it’s natural now. We’ve been doing it all year, working on it.
SI: Do you feel like those small units are kind of like a trump card in the sense that Ty Lue has used them almost exclusively as series have progressed in the first two rounds? The Jazz and Mavericks had a difficult time adjusting. Do you feel like that’s still an advantage?
TM: Yeah for sure. For sure. And that’s exactly what got us this far. Being able to do that at a high level, and other teams can’t match it. It’s definitely helped us.
SI: On your first shot of Game 2, you went coast to coast up the left sideline, then weaved back toward the right elbow and hit this fadeaway over DeAndre Ayton. Not a lot of players would take or even have the green light to try that shot right after they sub into a game.
TM: My coaches trust me to play my game. And whatever’s in my game, they trust. Getting to the midrange is definitely part of my game, and they know that. They’re O.K. with it as long as it’s going in. [Laughs.] No, seriously, though, I’m able to take my midrange shots, whether it’s going in or not, as long as it’s a good look at the rim. I knew once I got out there, just be confident and shoot it, and I did. They know I’m gonna play my game when I get in there. And that’s what they trust me to do.
SI: How would you describe your role on this team right now?
TM: I don’t know! I don’t know how to describe it exactly just because, like you were talking about, it changes so much. Sometimes I’m starting. Sometimes I’m coming off the bench. Sometimes I’m not playing at all and I'm just the vocal guy, vocal leader, but you know, it changes, and I would probably just say, you know, energy guy. I’m definitely bringing energy to everyone on both sides of the floor. I'm reliable. I definitely describe my role as a reliable guy. You know what you’re gonna get out of me 10 times out of 10. So that’s just what helps me crack the rotation and be there for everybody.
SI: You said earlier in our conversation that you don’t have an opportunity to make mistakes when you check into a game. Do you feel as this postseason has gone on that your leash is a little bit longer, particularly with Kawhi not being available right now?
TM: I try not to go in the game thinking, Oh, yeah, my leash is getting longer, but basketball is a game of mistakes. And we have a coaching staff who completely understand that because most of them have played before. But just having that mentality of not making mistakes, you can find yourself in trouble when you’re out there worrying about Oh, I’m not trying to make mistakes. I just go out there and play my game, and whatever happens happens.
SI: Speaking of mistakes, you probably don't know this but right now you’re the only guard or wing in NBA playoff history to play more than 250 minutes with two or fewer turnovers.
TM: I’m a reliable player for a coach. I’m not gonna go out there and do too much and get myself into trouble. Part of my game is not turning the ball over. I’ve always been like that. I’ve always had a high assist-to-turnover ratio, all the way back to high school. I guess that's just high IQ and reading the game well. Turnovers happen, but I just haven't put myself in that position in these playoffs so far.
SI: You grew up a big Rajon Rondo fan. Can you give me examples of advice that he’s given you or anyone else on the team during a game, during this run, maybe something he saw on the floor during the Jazz series when he wasn't playing as much or in Round 1 against Dallas. Or now, versus the Suns?
TM: I can’t pinpoint one thing, because Rondo is always [laughs] always giving different advice on different little things that he sees in the game, or that he’s watching on film. He’s a basketball junkie. He’s watching film wherever we’re at. He has his laptop with him watching the game, seeing what we can do better as a team, seeing what he can do better as a player. So he’s always sending me little stuff. He’s always telling me little things that he’s seen on film that I could do better at or whatever, but most of the time Rondo trusts me. He knows I have a high IQ just like him. “Do what you gotta do.” That’s what he always tells me. “You gotta play your game. Play your game young’n. You got it.” He trusts me, which is pretty cool.
SI: What’s it like for you being around him on a regular basis?
TM: It’s crazy. Like yourself, I grew up in Massachusetts. So just being around him all the time, knowing that I used to watch him, go to Celtics games, have crazy conversations with my friends about Rondo and now I'm on the same team as him? It’s just … it’s a surreal feeling.
SI: Have you gotten his rookie card autographed yet?
TM: [Laughs.] Nah, not yet. I’m gonna wait on that till we win the championship. And I’m gonna get it signed that day so the value on it is crazy. And then I’m just gonna have it in my house forever.
SI: You guys are down 0–2 in the third straight series. Obviously, there’s no Kawhi right now. Do you feel pressure individually? Do you feel pressure as a team, in a situation like this? Or does it just feel like you have the Suns right where you want them?
TM: Pressure, no. But it’s not cool to be down 0–2 again for the third time in a row. It definitely wasn't planned. Definitely takes a toll, but the best thing about the NBA is it's first to four wins, not first to two or three. So we got plenty of time. We got plenty of games to make things happen. We’re not nervous or anything. We’ve been here before. We know how to handle it. Just gotta go out there and show it.
SI: What about after Game 2 in the first round? Were there any nerves that you sensed around the team then? Just because of how everything ended last year. And you guys are an incredibly talented team with championship aspirations. What was the vibe going down 0–2, dropping a pair at home to kick off this postseason?
TM: Oh man. It was not easy. Not an easy thing to mentally think about or a place to be in, especially after what happened last year. But we got good leaders that keep everybody locked in. They keep everyone positive. That’s exactly what they did. And that’s what helped us get over the hump. And that series was crazy because Luka is not an easy player.
SI: Luka looked like he was on a different planet. Have you ever seen a player go off the way he was, consistently hitting the type of shots he did?
TM: Not for seven games in a row. Definitely not. Maybe one or two? But for seven in a row, what he did was pretty spectacular. It was crazy to see.
SI: Obviously the season isn’t over yet, but where do you see yourself going from here in terms of accomplishing any individual goals, off the experience and confidence that these playoffs might have filled you with?
TM: I haven’t thought about anything too specific yet, just because I’ve been so locked in on the season. But just the overall goal: I want to be a great player on championship teams. Teams that are always in the hunt. Teams that are always winning. That’s what I pride myself on, is winning. I don’t care what it takes, whether that’s starting, coming off the bench, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever it is. That’s just what I want to be in this league, known as a player who’s bringing a winning culture to organizations.