On paper, there's no reason why the LA Clippers should have been able to beat the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night. This contest looked every bit like it would be a scheduled loss, and then some.
Not only was this the second night of a back-to-back and LA's third game in four nights, but the Clippers went into the night without all five of their usual starters. Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr. and Serge Ibaka were all out for various reasons — putting the Clippers in an incredibly difficult position.
The box score from last night's contest doesn't paint LA in a positive light, either. The Clippers shot less than 40% from the field and just 24% from three-point range, committed more turnovers (11) than assists (10), scored just 70 points over the final three quarters and got 27 points from their bench unit.
But the best teams always find a way to win, and that's exactly what the Clippers did.
It all started late in the fourth quarter, as the Clippers found themselves down 89-96 and unable to buy a bucket with less than two minutes to play.
Ivica Zubac gathered a defensive rebound and threw the ball up the floor to Reggie Jackson, who gathered, drove into the lane and put it off the glass for an easy lay-in. The Pistons missed a good look from three on the other end of the floor, but an offensive rebound let Detroit burn some clock with a little more than a minute to play. Jerami Grant missed his next attempt at the rim, and the Clippers took it back up the court.
They were able to get a nice look on their next possession, as Terance Mann found himself behind the three-point line with several feet of space between him and the closest defender. His shot missed, but Zubac gathered the rebound against the smaller Grant and put it back up and in to make it a three-point game with less than a minute remaining in the quarter.
Pistons center Mason Plumlee sank two free throws on the following possession to extend Detroit's lead back to five, but after the Clippers called a timeout, LA ran a perfect play to open up Mann for a slam dunk that trimmed it back to three.
The Clippers double-teamed Grant late in the shot clock on Detroit's next possession, forcing a turnover that Mann ultimately came away with. He drove down the court, found himself outnumbered in the lane and kicked the ball out to Jackson, who sank the game-tying three-pointer from the left corner to make it 98-98 with 19 seconds to play.
Fate continued to favor the Clippers on Detroit's next possession, as Amir Coffey forced a deflection on the inbounds pass that fell into Mann's grasp. The Clippers called their final timeout, setting them up to take one final shot with 15 seconds to go.
LA's coaching staff then drew up a play for Jackson — who had spent most of his last six seasons in Detroit — to take the game-winning shot. He took his time getting the ball up the court, crossing the halfcourt line as the clock wound down to 10. He slowly dribbled his way from the logo to the perimeter and then a step inside the arc before pulling up for a deep mid-range jumper as Pistons rookie Killian Hayes stumbled backward. The shot caught nothing but net, and with two seconds to play, the Clippers went up 100-98 — their first lead since the early part of the third quarter.
Pressed for time, the Pistons launched the ball from the baseline to the opposite free-throw line, where it was caught by Plumlee. He kicked it back to Hayes, who threw up a prayer from beyond the arc that bounced off the front of the rim as the final buzzer sounded. And with that, the Clippers had officially pulled off a miracle to earn their seventh consecutive victory.
"Our guys just kept scrapping, kept competing," Clippers coach Ty Lue said after the game. "We got the result we wanted. So I was just happy for Reggie to come back and play the way he's been playing, and to make the game-winning shot, that was huge."
Huge indeed — not only did the win push the Clippers to 39-18 on the season, but it also kept them within two games of the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and three games ahead of the fourth-place Denver Nuggets. With another tough stretch ahead, LA will need every win it can get, and last night's victory may end up being one of the most important of the season.
With all that said, let's take a closer look at a few things we could glean from the win.
Reggie Jackson's Incredible Value
Few players have been as important to the Clippers this season as Reggie Jackson. The veteran guard has always been there to step up when he's needed, and he's never been selfish about taking on a reduced role. No matter what he's been asked to do, he's done it almost to perfection.
The fact that he's done all that on a minimum contract truly highlights his value to the team.
Jackson has been terrific all season, but he's played especially well since March. Over his last 21 appearances, Jackson has made 18 starts and posted averages of 13.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in roughly 27 minutes per game. That stretch includes six 20-point performances and highlights his absurd efficiency, as Jackson has done all this on near 50/50/90 shooting splits.
"Reggie is a great player," Luke Kennard said after the game. "He's capable of doing this each and every night. He really is. I believe that. He puts the work in, he takes care of his body, and he has confidence in himself... Reggie is a big piece of what we're doing, what we're building here, and we need him to stay confident and just stay ready to go."
Jackson — or "Hot Sauce," as his teammates call him — should continue to start so long as Patrick Beverley remains sidelined, and perhaps even after he returns. The team obviously believes in him, and with Beverley's recent streak of injuries, it couldn't hurt to bring him off the bench for a while as he works his way back to shape.
Terance Mann is Unafraid of the Moment
You wouldn't know just from watching Terance Mann that this is only his second year in the NBA. The leap that the 24-year-old swingman has made this season has seen him go from reserve to bonafide role player, and he's done well enough to put himself in position to earn consistent minutes in the playoffs — for a championship-contending team, no less.
His line from Wednesday night — nine points, four rebounds and an assist on 33% shooting — admittedly doesn't look like much, but his hands were all over the game. Mann scored four of those points and dished out his only assist in the contest's final four minutes, which includes the pass that set Jackson up for his game-tying three.
He was also half of the double team that forced the Pistons to turn the ball over just before Jackson's big shot, and he collected the loose ball that Coffey forced on the following possession. Had Mann not been in the right place at the right time, there's a good chance that the Clippers would have lost last night.
None of this, of course, should come as a surprise. Those of us who have watched Mann all season long know how good he can be, and his numbers as of late do a fantastic job of showing just how much he's grown throughout the year.
Take three-point shooting, for example. Mann was only one-for-four from deep on Wednesday, but consider for a moment that he felt comfortable and confident enough to take those shots. After all, Mann attempted just 20 threes all last season, and he's already made more than that this year.
Mann has been especially hot from beyond the arc since February. He's converted 48% of his three-point attempts over his last 35 appearances, which is a significant increase from the 23.5% mark he posted over his first 19. Overall, he's made 24 of his last 50 attempts from deep after starting the year off by making just four of his first 17.
Plenty of credit is due to the revamped coaching staff for giving Mann the confidence to take these types of shots, but he's clearly had the ability to do so in him all along.
It should be interesting to see which area of his game he elevates next.
Keep Shooting, Luke
Another player who has looked more confident as of late is Luke Kennard, who took a season-high 17 field goal attempts in Wednesday's win over his former team. Granted, he only made five of them and went one-for-six on threes, but that's no reason for him to stop shooting.
Kennard has been one of LA's most efficient three-point shooters this season, cashing in on 46% of his looks on the year. He's been a tad better from range since the All-Star break (which includes his 20-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks), but it's his scoring overall that's been way up since then.
Five of Kennard's top eight scoring performances have come over his last 15 appearances, and his 17-point night on Wednesday marked the first time all year that Kennard scored 10+ points in three consecutive games.
Yes, he's had more of an opportunity to score with some key players out during that stretch, but he's also taking advantage of that opportunity and has consistently made the most of his extra minutes on the floor.
Getting him to be more aggressive when he shares the floor with LA's best players is the next step in his development, but fans have to feel good about the way Kennard has looked lately.