For Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, playing defense is a test of wills.
His job, as he sees it, is to push his opponent toward the moment when they feel it is not their night and disengage. Sometimes it happens quickly. Sometimes it takes 48 minutes. Eventually, though, every scorer breaks.
There’s just one caveat, he said. You can pressure his Clippers teammate Lou Williams all you want. You can even lock him down, frustrate him and keep him from scoring. Nothing keeps the 14-year veteran from believing in his ability to score.
“He’s the most patient scorer I ever played with, played against,” Beverley said. “Those are usually the best players, players that can’t be rattled. He’ll miss a few. Next thing you know he’ll have 12, 13, 14 in the fourth and end up with 23, 24 points on a good night. Hit game-winners, hit floaters. Really can’t stop his shot.”
Milwaukee, Golden State and San Antonio don’t need to be reminded. In the past week all three teams watched as Williams endured relatively poor-shooting performances only to score clutch baskets in late-game situations that led to victories by the Clippers (9-5).
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Williams has been the embodiment of a team that has so far exceeded outside expectations against a difficult schedule. He’s not a marquee name. He’s not physically imposing. But he is exhausting to play against because he never stops coming.
“We always felt we were a good basketball team so we’re not surprised,” Williams said. “We’re playing up to the level we thought we could be.”
Williams lofted a game-winning floater in overtime Saturday while surrounded by three Bucks defenders, scored his team’s last 10 points against the Warriors on Monday and made a go-ahead three-pointer Thursday in the final minute of regulation to beat San Antonio. He averaged 20 points a game in the victories despite shooting 35.8% from the field, six percentage points lower than his season average.
“I’ve had several guys that at the end of games that you would categorize as the ultimate closers because it really wouldn’t matter how they were playing,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Lou’s one of those guys.”
Asked what five-man lineup of players he’s coached he would field if he needed a late bucket, Rivers chose Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady, Patrick Ewing — and Williams.
“They just have confidence,” Rivers said, and it goes both ways.
Williams made only three of his 16 shots entering overtime against Golden State but Rivers stuck with him because he knew the off-shooting night wouldn’t cause Williams to hesitate. Only the Lakers’ LeBron James has averaged more fourth-quarter points this season, 8.2 to Williams’ 8.1.
“We’re in a good space right now collectively,” Williams said Thursday. “I don’t get really wrapped up in what I’m doing.”
He might be the only one. Forward Montrezl Harrell called him “special.” Rivers likened his ability to score no matter the situation to a country with “first-strike capability.”
“Lou has what you call ‘a threat,’” Rivers said. “If you know anything about international politics you would know what that is. He can hurt you. He has the bomb, you know what I mean?”
If Rivers views Williams as a weapon, Beverley sees a security blanket. So long as Williams is in during crunch-time situations, Beverley likes his team’s chances. Only so many teammates have given him a similar feeling.
“I played with LeBron [James in 2010 preseason] in Miami and [Dwyane] Wade and Chris Bosh and James Harden and Eric Gordon and Dwight Howard and he’s up there with the best of them,” Beverley said. “There’s no cap.
“Not just saying that because he’s my teammate. When he’s on the floor to finish games I feel real comfortable — like I felt when I was on the court with those other guys.”
His teammates’ comfort is his opponents’ dread.
After watching Williams come off the bench to score six points in his first five minutes Thursday, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich went on national television and said what opposing coaches might only think.
“I would like to make Lou Williams disqualified for the rest of this game,” Popovich told a TNT sideline reporter.
Unfortunately for Popovich, Williams stayed in and stayed confident, shooting until the very end.
When: 3 p.m. PST, Saturday.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.
Update: Doc Rivers anticipates guard Avery Bradley could return to play during the Clippers’ three-game trip, which begins against Brooklyn, after he “looked good” during workouts this week while recovering from an injured left ankle. The injury has kept him out five consecutive games. Bradley is closer to returning than forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who has yet to take part in an on-court workout since he was sidelined by a sore knee 10 games ago.