A lack of guard depth has thrust Sindarius Thornwell into a more prominent role as the Clippers push for a playoff spot, and the rookie responded with a huge defensive play to seal Sunday night’s 123-120 win over Brooklyn.
With three seconds left, Nets guard Joe Harris went up for a potential game-tying three-pointer from the top of the key. Thornwell closed quickly and blocked the shot. A foul would have sent Harris, an 80% free-throw shooter, to the line for three shots.
“It’s a big risk if you foul, but it was a good read,” Thornwell said. “I stayed on the body, fought through a little gate screen, and I guess it was good timing. It was instincts. You have to be prepared for the moment and make a play.”
With injuries sidelining Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley and Jawun Evans and the two-way contracts of C.J. Williams and Tyrone Wallace expiring, the Clippers were down to four healthy guards — Austin Rivers, Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams and Thornwell — before signing Sean Kilpatrick to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Thornwell’s minutes dropped dramatically around Christmas, but he has seen an uptick in the past three games, playing 14 minutes Wednesday against Houston, 18½ minutes Friday against the Knicks and 23 minutes against the Nets.
“Those times I didn’t play, I continued to learn and grow, I watched film, I talked to the vets,” said Thornwell, a former South Carolina standout who was a mid-second-round pick last summer. “My confidence is higher than what it was on the offensive end, and I’m becoming the player I know I can be.”
Thornwell averaged 16.1 minutes and made eight starts in the first 29 games, using his instincts, strength and quickness to shine on defense. But in a 30-game stretch from Dec. 20 to Feb. 27, Thornwell played in only 21 games, averaging 8.1 minutes and 1.9 points.
“He’s had what I would call a mid-second-round rookie year, but a good one,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He started out really well and accepted his role defensively. Then he kind of lost focus a little bit and struggled, and because this is not college or high school, you don’t still play, you know?
“You have to go back and work your way through it. And I give him a ton of credit. He’s done that. He’s worked his way back into our favor and onto the floor. I’m really happy for him.”
The strategy of hacking DeAndre Jordan intentionally to send the notoriously poor free-throw shooter to the line is becoming extinct.
Jordan, who entered this season making 43.0% of his free throws, is shooting 61.7% from the line, making 129 of 209 shots. He made nine of 10 free throws Sunday, including all four in the fourth quarter. On the season, he is shooting 74.5% (38 of 51) from the line in the fourth quarter.
“When he shoots them, even when he misses, they look good,” Doc Rivers said. “And the more you see them go in, the more you believe they’ll go in.”
Confidence has been a key.
“I’m working on it a lot, and my teammates are confident in me, so I’m getting more and more comfortable up there,” said Jordan, who’s in his 10th season. “I feel good in my routine.”
Doc’s son is top gun
Austin Rivers has become a lethal outside shooter, his long-range marksmanship on display again Sunday, when he drained a step-back 27-footer with 33.8 seconds left to give the Clippers a 121-120 lead.
Rivers has been the Clippers’ most consistent three-point threat all season, making 103 of 259, his 39.8% mark well above his career 35.8% rate. His three-point shooting has improved every season in Los Angeles, starting from 30.9% in 2014-15.
“That’s all I worked on this summer, the three-ball,” Rivers said. “I’ve gone from having a little confidence in it to believing every three-pointer I shoot I feel like is going in. That’s just the way I feel. When you put work into something, you have to trust it and live with the results. I have 100% confidence in that shot.”
VS. NEW ORLEANS
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket, TNT; Radio: 570, 1330.
Update: All-Star forward Anthony Davis has been on a tear during the Pelicans’ eight-game win streak, averaging 37.2 points and 14.7 rebounds, a stretch of dominance that has helped ease the loss of DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury. Davis’ 28.0-point average ranks second behind Houston’s James Harden (31.2). The Clippers are 9-3 over their past 12 games and 21-9 since Christmas.