Youth-infused Clippers buying into Rivers’ message

LOS ANGELES, CA-A lot of people jumped off the Los Angeles Clippers’ bandwagon when the team traded Chris Paul in the summer. When four of the five opening night starters filtered out of the lineup because of injuries, some questioned if the franchise had been bit by an organizational curse. Adding to that drama was a nine-game losing streak that was cause for concern about the Clippers’ season.

Two games might not be a good enough measuring stick for some people to judge what the Clippers will be doing for the rest of the season, but two recent wins at home against the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors prove that the Clippers won’t be waving the white towel on their season anytime soon. The Clippers showed resiliency and a whole lot of moxie against two of the more talented teams in the Eastern Conference.

Even without the electric John Wall on the floor, the Wizards are a tough out as the Clippers found out in their 113-112 victory. But what the Wizards discovered was a Clippers team-minus Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic-coached up to execute with or without their stars on the floor. As they did against  Toronto, young players like C.J. Williams, Sindarius Thornwell, Jawun Evans and Montrezl Harrell, made solid contributions.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Sam Dekker makes a move past Toronto Raptors’ center Serge Ibaka on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

This is important. Even though it took a last-second 3-point shot from Lou Williams (team-high 35 points) for the Clippers to win the game, the good dose of playing time these novice players are getting can only mean that the team’s depth will play well late in the season, and possibly the playoffs. Don’t laugh at this notion. It’s still early in the season. There is a lot of basketball to be played.

And in all likelihood, that will include the Clippers playing some close games down the line as they did against the Wizards and the Raptors. That’s the part that’s not easy, said Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

“It’s so tough, because there are so many young guys out there on the floor for us and we messed up that last coverage and they got a three,” said Rivers after the Clippers had defeated Toronto 96-91 in a home win. “It’s a tough one from a coaching standpoint, because you’ve got your young guys out there and you’ve got to correct them and tell them what they did wrong, but you still have to keep their confidence up at the same time. It’s a balancing act for sure.”

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) sees his pathway to the basket blocked by a Los Angeles Clippers defender on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

The season is far from being over. And what we see from the Clippers now is their brand of youth infusion. They are a young and more athletic bunch this season. Running the team as a point guard, Evans is an open court blur at times. Harrell gives the Clippers added muscle and scoring inside to help out Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Thornwell and Williams seem to fit in whatever role they are asked to play.

Throw in forward Willie Reed and Sam Dekker, and the Clippers have a much-improved bench this season despite what the won-loss record says at the moment. That’s because Rivers and the Clippers coaching staff has had to work overtime to see some of the fruition of their labor pay off.

While injuries have derailed playing time for four of the five opening night starters, the biggest challenge for Rivers and his coaches to work through was for the younger players to systematically buy into what they’re teaching them. Against Washington and Toronto, it appears those players have bought into the message.

Bench play is the reason why. It was the play of the Clippers’ reserves that sparked the team’s recent handling of the Wizards.

Austin Rivers (25) drives to the basket for two points agains the Toronto Raptors on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

“The bench won the game for us,” Rivers said. “Lou [Williams] was part of the bench so it’s easy to say, but you know I thought we started out flat again. I basically took three of the starters out right away and I thought that changed the game. We put Jawun [Evans] and Lou on Bradley Beal and [Otto] Porter. It literally makes no sense but sometimes just energy and playing hard changes the game and that’s what I was looking for.”

That same bench brought the noise as well against the Raptors and their big band of three (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka). Before going to play their next four games on the road, the Clippers use the play of the multiple players to get it done against the No.3 team in the Eastern Conference. Using balanced scoring, the Clippers had six players score in double-figures to upend Toronto.

This was a win fought in the hard-earned category, Rivers said.

“Yeah, we talked about it at halftime, [playing hard] has got to be one of our talents right now,” said Rivers. “Teams have so much talent, but even with all the guys out, you can’t account for a team that’s going to play hard, and I thought that’s what we did all game. I thought we scrapped, we played hard, we go the loose balls, we got the 50/50 game, we took charges, we created turnovers, got baskets, and that’s who we have to be right now, and our guys have bought into it.”

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