In what was one of their most thrilling (and hopefully invigorating) wins of the season, the LA Clippers rallied from a 22-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Hawks, 119-110 on Monday.
Like so many games as of late, the Clippers looked out of sorts early on. They were already down 15 at halftime, and shots simply weren’t falling. A decent first quarter was quickly negated by a deflating second. LA could not tame the offensive engine that is Trae Young. Young already had 20 points at halftime, knocking down deep threes and getting into the lane at will.
Around the six-minute mark of the third quarter, Atlanta’s lead had ballooned to 21 points, and Clippers Head Coach Tyronn Lue had seen enough. He went with a complete platoon swap, trading out the entire starting lineup and calling on the end of the bench to bring a spark to the table.
Indeed they did. The bench mob consisting of Terance Mann, Amir Coffey, Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum and Patrick Patterson punched the Hawks’ second unit in the mouth, rallying back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit with aggressive defense, tough shot-making and a sense of urgency in transition. With about nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter and LA only down by seven, Lue decided to capitalize on the bench’s progress and reinsert Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the hopes of stealing the game from the Hawks. With momentum on their side, the Clippers bypassed their usual clutch-time struggles and won the fourth quarter 37-20. It was a truly inspiring victory, and the team’s joy was palpable.
Luke Kennard’s perfect night
Leading the charge off the bench was Luke Kennard, who gave what could be considered the best performance of his young career given the circumstances. Kennard brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “make the most of your minutes,” going a perfect 8-8 from the field (4-4 from downtown) for 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists in just 18 minutes of play, finishing as a team-high +30 for the game. Kennard brought the shot-making that LA desperately needed. He was aggressive, unconscious and determined to drag his team back. His energy was contagious; when he hit an off-balance, eurostep, buzzer-beating three from halfcourt to end the third quarter, his passionate celebration seemed to permeate throughout the team and carry them into the fourth quarter.
Games like this can be breakthroughs for guys like Kennard who are in and out of the rotation. Lue said that Kennard has “definitely earned something” in terms of extended minutes after his performance on Monday.
Terance Mann continues to grow
Terance Mann was the other half of the bench’s dynamic duo that ignited the team’s comeback. Mann dropped a season-high 21 points while also grabbing 10 rebounds, earning his second career double-double. Mann played a myriad of different roles for the bench, either running the offense as the de facto point guard in transition or setting screens and playing in the dunkers’ spot in half court settings.
Mann’s ability to snag defensive rebounds and go coast-to-coast in transition brings a dynamic that the Clippers don’t really have otherwise. Couple that with his defensive versatility, and he becomes an excellent card for Lue to play in the postseason depending on the scenario.
It might sound like a platitude, but it’s actually quite a wise thing for the 24-year-old to point out. Energy means attacking the basket, getting to the rim and drawing fouls. LA has been a jump-shooting team through and through this season, but with a bit more of an energetic burst, they can get themselves easy baskets as well.
Kawhi comes in clutch
After the bench brought the Clippers back from the dead, it was time for the starters to face their clutch-time demons. LA has been the worst team in the league this year in the last five minutes of a game within five points or less, and they seem to allow winnable games to slip away far too often (though the sample size is quite small). But when it came down to it on Monday night, Kawhi Leonard did his best Kenley Janson impression and closed the game out for LA. Leonard scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, including two huge threes within 25 seconds of each other in the last minute of the game, each with the shot clock winding down. He also came in clutch defensively, swatting John Collins’ shot to keep LA’s lead at five points with under two minutes to go.
While Leonard was spectacular to close out the game, he acknowledged postgame that he wouldn’t have been in that position were it not for the bench’s incredible run.
This was a crucial victory for LA. If they were unable to come back, it could’ve led to a serious ‘panic button’ moment for the front office as the trade deadline approaches.
LA will look to extend their first winning streak since Feb. 15 as they head to San Antonio to take on the Spurs in a two-game series, the first of which tips off on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.