Given that 15-year veteran shooting guard J.J. Redick announced his retirement this morning, it seemed fitting to reflect on his best game as an LA Clipper, the team for which he played four seasons as the starting shooting guard of the iconic Lob City squad.
Redick gave the single-best performance of his career while wearing a Clipper jersey, dropping a career-high 40 points against the Houston Rockets back on Jan. 18, 2016.
It was a revenge game for the Clippers that nearly became another painful collapse. A marquee matchup on Martin Luther King Day, the two teams were coming off a brutal seven-game series in the Conference Semifinals the year before, in which LA infamously gave up a 3-1 lead. To add insult to injury, the Rockets took the first two contests of the regular season against the Clippers that year as well.
Paul was without his co-star Blake Griffin that night, and Redick stepped up in his absence. A man of routine if nothing else, he got his usual floppy-action jumpers off of sleeping defenders who couldn’t keep up with him through screen after screen after screen. But once Redick realized early on that he had the hot hand (15 points including four made threes in the first quarter alone), he started chucking. Hands in his face, five feet beyond the arc, it didn’t matter. His textbook jump shot form (that’ll no-doubt be shown in film sessions to up-and-coming players for years to come) made him unbothered, unaware of anything other than the bottom of the net. He also showed off his underrated ability to draw fouls, getting to the line nine times and giving fans a glimpse of his seldom-seen dribble-drive game.
It was a masterful performance, but it was almost all for naught, as the ghost of blown leads past once again attempted to haunt the Clippers. With 4:16 to go, the Clippers held a 14-point lead that felt solid enough to keep the Rockets out of range. But of course, Houston went on a 24-10 run to close out the fourth quarter, capped off with a clutch three from Marcus Thorton to tie the game with seven seconds to go. (Along with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, add Thorton to the list of random Rockets role players that decide to become Steph Curry against the Clippers—23 points and five made threes for Thorton that night.) Paul missed a buzzer beater, and the game went to overtime.
Luckily, the extra playing time didn’t faze Redick (he’s widely regarded as one of the best-conditioned athletes in the league). In overtime, he hit yet another three (his ninth of the game) before being sent to the free throw line with 39 seconds left following a jab to his eye from Jason Terry. Redick’s obsessive routines once again paid off, as his free throw shooting was so automatic (he’ll retire with the ninth-highest free throw percentage in NBA history at 89.18%) that he didn’t need both eyes to knock them both down. A fitting ending for a game that encapsulated what made Redick special.
Redick has said he has obsessive-compulsive tendencies that he’s been able to harness as a drive for perfection. But it’s clear that his competitiveness—his frustration with losing—fuels this compulsion.
"I think I take most losses personally, not just to the Rockets," Redick said after his 40-point performance that night. "But going back to last year, we had lost five in a row. C.P. and I talked earlier today just about how frustrating it's been. They're a team that thinks they're better than us, and rightfully so given the results over the past season and a half. So it was important tonight for us to hit them first and be more aggressive from the start."
Redick won’t disappear from the NBA zeitgeist post-retirement any time soon, as he’s going to be one of the faces of player-driven media for years to come. He’s a great podcast host, a smart basketball mind and an excellent Twitter follow. But it’s important we remember Redick the player as well: a consummate professional, a doer of dirty work, the guy who played alongside The Guy. That type of player is crucial for a championship team. Although Redick never won one himself, he should be a model for those who hope to at some point in their careers. If a player comes to terms with the fact that they don’t have the natural talent of a Chris Paul or a Blake Griffin, they should aspire, obsessively, to be a J.J. Redick.