The phrase “Team effort” would be an understatement for the way in which the LA Clippers defeated the Miami Heat on Monday night, 125-118.
No Kawhi Leonard (lower leg contusion). No Paul George (bone edema in his toe). No Patrick Beverley (resting on the second night of a back-to-back). No Nicolas Batum (concussion). Four of their five starters out against a relatively healthy Finals runner-up, not to mention it would be the Clippers’ second game in as many nights. If there was ever a time for LA’s coaching staff to use the “schedule loss” excuse, Monday night would’ve been it.
But instead, Head Coach Tyronn Lue promoted his bench mob to the starting five, and they delivered him and Clippers fans one of the most gratifying wins of the season.
Committee indeed. Six Clippers scored in double figures, and 31 of their 47 made baskets were assisted. LA played with pace, defensive grit, and moved the ball like they were the 2014 Spurs. No one talent was able to overcome Miami. It took an entire team with palpable chemistry, and they pulled it off.
Mook reminds everyone who he is
The head of the committee was Marcus Morris Sr. It’s easy to forget that a year ago, Morris was the no. 1 option on a team (albeit a bad Knicks squad), putting up nearly 20 points per game and shooting 44% from three. Since being traded to the Clippers, Morris shifted his game to compliment the All-Stars next to him. But with those two stars out, he reengaged his primary-scorer mentality and went on an absolute tear.
Morris went ballistic from three in the first half, hitting six of his seven attempts and going for 26 points, a career-high in either half for him. He was already hitting a career-high from three this season, but Monday’s performance rocketed his percentages to over 50%, an insane mark. He was also creating in the mid-range, as the Clippers went to him in the post for many of their halfcourt sets. He ended the game with 32 points on 11-15 shooting.
Credit should also be given to Lou Williams, who set Morris up for many of his open threes off of pick-and-roll penetration. Williams dropped a dollar’s worth of dimes, dishing out 10 assists on the night.
Amir Coffey shows up, hits five threes
Amir Coffey, the Clippers’ second-year two-way shooting guard, was called up from the G-League over the weekend in response to the Clippers’ myriad injuries. He checked in in the second quarter against Miami, and immediately proceeded to knock down his first four three-point attempts. The Heat were either playing a zone or simply not respecting Coffey’s jumper, and he made them pay in either scenario. He got to his spots and didn’t hesitate (something Luke Kennard should take note of, though he looked aggressive as well on Monday).
Coffey hit his fifth three in the second half, playing a total of 32 minutes. Prior to Monday’s game, he’d hit just four threes all season for the varsity squad. However, for the Agua Caliente Clippers, he’d been letting it fly without regard.
“I was joking with him,” Terance Mann recalled after the game. “He shot 14 threes last game in the G-League. I was like ‘Oh, I see what you were preparing for. You were preparing for this game.’ He’s out there, playing as hard as he can. Player development, shout out to them. Giving us confidence, telling us to shoot the ball, shoot the ball, shoot the ball. He came out and that’s what he did.”
Zu continues to thrive
Ivica Zubac had yet another spectacular game off the bench, dropping 22 points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes. While Serge Ibaka continues to own the starting role, Zubac has closed many games, including Monday night’s matchup. Coming off the bench means he can feast on smaller backup centers, like Heat rookie Precious Achiuwa, who’s about four inches shorter and what looked like 20 pounds lighter than Zubac. He was able to get deep post position on the rookie, and finish over the top of him with jump hooks and pivot moves.
Any win without Leonard and George should be considered gravy for the Clippers this season. If they’d lost this game, on the second night of a back-to-back against a contender (albeit a struggling one), no one would’ve thought less of Tyronn Lue or the Clippers’ role players. But this particular win carried an energy that has value; when the Clippers inevitably run into adversity in the postseason, they can reflect on this win as a time when they were completely counted out before the jump and found a way to succeed against a more talented opponent using the fundamentals of team basketball. Their ceiling is obviously highest when their two superstars (and their two three-and-D starters in Beverley and Batum) are healthy, but their depth should now be considered a weapon that every team in the league should fear.