Less than a second into the play, Clippers coach Doc Rivers stopped it.
He stepped inside the three-point line and met Sindarius Thornwell at the key’s elbow.
Thornwell had gently wrapped his arms around the teammate he was defending, Lou Williams, to keep him from running toward an inbounder. Rivers saw it and blew a screeching whistle.
“You can’t hold him!” Rivers said, explaining to the second-year guard that officials want to reduce holding during the upcoming NBA season. Thornwell nodded and play resumed, this time with his hands at his side.
The Clippers’ new season began in earnest Tuesday inside the Stan Sheriff Center on the University of Hawaii campus with a pair of practices that highlighted how much there is to learn. Rivers has expressed both an affinity for the team and uncertainty about how they will fit together. Tuesday was a first chance not only to cover Rivers’ priorities of defensive rules and offensive spacing, but also better understand a 20-man training camp roster.
“Today was a good day,” forward Tobias Harris said after the morning workout. “The biggest thing is we’re out here competing. Everybody is getting a feel for each other. It was hard; it was hard work today. Obviously, first day, a little sloppy on some turnovers from the whole group but that’s something we’ll grow on and progress that once we know each other’s spots and each other’s games a little bit better.”
While Rivers defers to president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, who watched practice a few rows in front of consultant Jerry West, on cutting the back end of the roster down to the league-maximum 15 players, the coach is using camp to determine the best lineups.
It’s why he built the latter portions of the morning workout around the kind of late-game situational drills that got Thornwell whistled for the hold. In one, an inbounding team trailed by three with 14 seconds remaining on the shot clock — the kind of situation the Clippers could find themselves in this season because of a new rule that the shot clock is reset to 14 seconds instead of 24 on an offensive rebound or other second-chance opportunity.
Rivers wanted to see how a small-ball lineup of guards Williams, Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley, Harris and forward Danilo Gallinari, playing center, would mesh under the circumstances.
“We’re a team that really doesn’t have the superstar name but we’re a really good team,” Rivers said. “We’ve got to work on end-of-the-game stuff because we’re going to be able to be in every game. We’re going to have to figure out the best way to close the games.”
When paired together, Gallinari said he will play the center to Harris’ power forward, or the power forward to Harris’ small forward. Playing center, he said, was “easy,” but added he wasn’t sure how often that specific lineup will be used.
Harris called it “a lineup we look forward to seeing.”
“In late-game situations with the way the league is going, a lot of small ball that was similar to that,” Harris said. “The most worried-about thing is just defensively what we do, but we have enough guys out there who can switch and be tough around the rim and board, too.”
Rookie guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson each displayed “good moments” during their first workout, Harris said. Rivers called the team’s overall conditioning “good, not great,” after most players spent the last several weeks playing together in Los Angeles, but was pleased with the pace of transition opportunities.
“Everyone had a pretty good practice,” Rivers said.
Players broke off into smaller groups to work on three-point shooting following the morning workout, with Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyrone Wallace hoisting corner threes under the watch of assistant Sam Cassell. Forward Luc Mbah a Moute, one of the team’s most-experienced players, was the last to leave the floor.
He and his teammates were set to return to the gym hours later for a second workout — another opportunity for the Clippers to get a hold on this team’s potential.