As has often been the case this season, the LA Clippers were severely undermanned on Wednesday night as they squared off against the Memphis Grizzlies. Kawhi Leonard remained out with right foot soreness, Patrick Beverley (fractured hand) and Serge Ibaka (lower back tightness) sat yet again, Rajon Rondo was out with right wrist inflammation (this is a new development), and Paul George and Reggie Jackson were both given the night off to rest after playing the night before in Portland. It was the LA Canoes vs. a playoff/play-in team in the Grizzlies (who welcomed back young stud Jaren Jackson Jr.), and no one would have blamed the skeleton roster if they rolled over and gave up without resistance.
But, time and again, LA’s bench refuses to die.
Despite being punched in the mouth early in the game and falling behind by as many as 18 points in the first quarter, LA’s B-team was able to claw their way back with hard-nosed defense and, to the surprise of no one at this point, absurd three-point shooting. Despite missing three 40+% three-point shooters in George, Jackson and Beverley, plus a 39% shooter in Leonard, the Clippers still shot 14-27 from downtown, good for 51.9%. Ten of those 14 came from LA’s two best three-point shooters, Luke Kennard (46.9% for the season) and Marcus Morris Sr. (47.8% for the season).
After losing the first quarter 39-24, LA won the rest of the game 93-66, completing an insane 30-point turnaround and securing a 117-105 win that they had no business taking. They limited Memphis in transition on one end and got to the free throw line 36 times on the other. It was thrilling to watch, particularly when factoring in the underdog situation the Clippers were in.
Luke Kennard, the flamethrower
Kennard has been one of the most efficient shooters in the league all season, but LA’s depth on the wing has meant his role has been sporadic. With four starters out, Kennard was given all he could eat, playing 38 minutes. He delivered when called upon, scoring a game-high (and season-high for him) 28 points, knocking down six of his seven three-point attempts.
In addition to spotting up, Kennard also carried much of the ball-handling duties, and operated out of pick-and-roll with Ivica Zubac and Morris. While he was only 4-9 on shots within the arc, he looked competent getting into the midrange and taking what the defense was giving him.
Assuming everyone is healthy (which is by no means a given), Kennard won’t get opportunities like this very often in the postseason. Still, give him credit for staying ready and willing to contribute whenever he is called upon. Who knows—we’ve seen spot-up shooters like Danny Green and Mike Miller swing Finals games for championship teams countless times in the past. It’s not hard to picture Kennard showing up out of nowhere and giving the Clippers six threes in a huge playoff game, should they get there.
Welcome to LA, Yogi Ferrell
In his first game with the Clippers after signing a 10-Day contract with the team, Yogi Ferrell wasted no time introducing himself to Clipper Nation. Ferrell instantly became a fan favorite on Twitter after his impactful performance, dishing out seven assists in 20 minutes of action and finishing the game a team-high +15. Lue threw the playbook out the window for Wednesday’s game due to a combination of missing stars and having to integrate new pieces like Ferrell and DeMarcus Cousins, so Ferrell just ran the offense like he would if it were a pickup game in the park. He found shooters in the corners, pushed the ball in transition (he’s easily the fastest player on the team), and made big effort plays. On one possession, he poked the ball away from Brandon Clarke along LA’s baseline and instinctually lobbed it up to Mann for a jam. He clicked with the team immediately, and it sounds like he’s already enjoying the Clipper vibes.
It’s unclear how long Ferrell will remain on the team (this variable is no-doubt intertwined with Beverley’s health), but his energy will be welcomed while the Clippers’ roster heals.
Terance Mann and positional ambiguity
Which position does Terance Mann play, and which position should he play? It’s a question that might not even matter in today’s NBA, as positions are constantly being blended and redefined. Basically, what it comes down to nowadays (particularly for perimeter players) is A) which positions can you defend? And B) do you largely operate with the ball in your hands or without it?
In Wednesday’s game, by these definitions, Mann was the Clippers’ de facto point guard. He guarded Ja Morant to start the game, and was LA’s primary ball-handler offensively. Mann looked competent in this role, dishing out seven assists and only turning the ball over once. While he struggled to shoot the ball (6-16 from the field, 1-4 from three) he was able to get to the free throw line six times, and hit a few tough midrange jumpers.
This is not the first time Mann has played the lead guard role. He was cast in that position for much of his rookie year last season, to mixed results. Lue has played Mann on the wing for much of this season, and he’s grown a lot as a supporting player. Still, seeing flashes of a lengthy, athletic playmaker who pushes the ball in transition, can switch on defense, and shoots 41% from three (though on minimal attempts and rarely off the dribble) is extremely enticing, even if it is in a backup role.
His decision making as a passer looked good against Memphis. He seemed to grow as the game went along; open shooters that he overlooked early on, he found as the game progressed. He had a sweet wrap-around pass to Zubac after getting into the lane, and he wasn’t hesitant to swing the ball to corner shooters from across the court.
After the game, I asked Lue about Mann’s role as a distributor.
Mann acknowledged postgame that it was a bit of an adjustment sliding down to the 1.
LA currently has four point guards on the roster, though only two of them are healthy, and one of those two is on a 10-Day contract. It’s possible Mann might see some more time in this role before the playoffs roll around, but the true question is what his long-term position is. The Clippers have the luxury of pondering this question while still competing for a title.
Next up, LA will travel to Houston to face the Rockets on Friday at 5:00 p.m.