Clippers guard Lou Williams jabbed a foot and rose for a three-pointer 27 feet from the basket on Friday night. Swish.
Thirty-two seconds later, he stopped even farther from the hoop and pulled up for another jumper. Swish.
Thirty-three seconds after that, he fired from 26 feet. Another bucket.
It was the fourth quarter of the Clippers’ 120-95 win in Orlando, and as Williams dribbled upcourt hunting a fourth straight basket, teammate Patrick Beverley stood from his bench seat and positioned himself on the baseline, preparing to reenact whatever Williams did next. There would be no celebration — Williams was fouled — but there were points as he made both free throws. In all, he scored 16 fourth-quarter points in less than seven minutes.
“He is a professional scorer,” coach Doc Rivers said. “You see it every time he plays.”
Williams’ onslaught Friday was unstoppable and not out of character. He led the NBA last season when averaging 7.9 points in fourth quarters. Thursday night, he scored 13 fourth-quarter points in a loss at Philadelphia.
When the Clippers (5-4) have been at their best thus far, however, it’s because Williams has not been an outlier in his production off the bench.
Clippers reserves are averaging 57.7 points a game, a league high by nine points, and lead NBA benches in shooting (52.2%) and getting to the free-throw line (13.7 makes on 17.1 attempts). Those numbers have been helped by the liberal use of reserves by Rivers, who called the team’s depth its strength at the season’s beginning and has relied on them. Clippers reserves are earning the second-most minutes a game this season.
“Our second team is really good,” center Boban Marjanovic said. “With Lou later and everybody else, they really are amazing.”
The scoring jolt has become a necessity. The starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Beverley are averaging a combined 12.8 points a game on 32.3% shooting. Both are shooting career-worst percentages from three-point range. Among 91 starting guards averaging at least 15 minutes a game, Beverley ranks 48th in offensive rating and Bradley 76th.
Against Orlando, they scored a combined 13 points and made five of their 18 shots.
Rivers has resisted breaking up the backcourt to add a scoring punch to the starting unit because he values Bradley’s and Beverley’s defense in limiting opponents’ shots more than their ability to create shots for themselves. When it’s time to sub them out, he sends in the more offensive-minded Williams and rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 36 combined points against Orlando, to take advantage of opponents’ reserves.
If a lineup change happens, Gilgeous-Alexander would be more likely to earn the starting nod. Rivers, a noted baseball fan, praised Williams as “like having Dennis Eckersley” come in to close.
“You go to the right arm, you throw him in there and he puts points up for you,” Rivers said. “He’s not perfect some nights, he struggles, but every night he gives you a chance offensively.”
Still, Rivers proved his lineups are not static by inserting Marjanovic into a starting role Friday for just the sixth time in the center’s career and benching Marcin Gortat, who had owned the league’s second-longest active streak with 172 starts.
At 7-foot-3, Marjanovic is a deterrent defensively near the rim but struggles guarding more nimble big men on the perimeter. He is also one of the league’s most efficient scorers. He could start again Monday against Minnesota in an attempt to blunt the impact of Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, Rivers said.
The decision turned Friday into a first opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of a new-look bench despite missing Marjanovic, and the Clippers responded with 63 points. Perhaps it wasn’t the stiffest test — Magic coach Steve Clifford called his team’s effort “not even close to being acceptable, not for a professional basketball team, not if you’re prideful.”
Nonetheless, the Clippers called it more of the same from a bench that will be relied upon heavily this season.
“We have one of the best benches in the league, if not the best,” forward Tobias Harris said. “It’s another lineup coming out there to just help us and give us our rest and for us to be able to come back and play off their energy.”
Guards assigned to G League
First-round NBA draft pick Jerome Robinson and second-year guard Ty Wallace were assigned to the Clippers’ G League affiliate in Ontario on Saturday.
Rivers was happy earlier in the week that “neither one of them is discouraged” despite earning the fewest minutes of playing time on the team.
“They just have so many guys in front of them right now,” he said. “I don’t ever want a player who doesn’t want to play, so I think their way of going about it is the professional way. They’re working, they do extra work, they play a lot of three-on-three stuff. I’ve been very happy with their progress and how they’re preparing.”