When forward Danilo Gallinari missed his first game this season Monday, it left the Clippers without half of a tandem that has been its most used and one of its most effective.
In the 27.7 minutes a game Gallinari and Tobias Harris have averaged together at the forward positions, the Clippers have scored a team-high 65.2 points. Among teammates averaging 10 minutes together each game, they rank fourth on the team in per-possession scoring.
The team said Gallinari was sick, and had been during Saturday’s victory over Brooklyn. Coach Doc Rivers said Gallinari is probable to play Tuesday at Washington.
Gallinari’s and Harris’ size and range create matchup issues for opposing forwards who might be smaller or slower, which Harris said was similar to his combination with Marcus Morris in Detroit. When the Pistons dealt Harris at midseason last year, he recognized a similar dynamic could be possible alongside Gallinari and the feeling was confirmed in a 129-119 victory over Boston on Valentine’s Day when Gallinari had 20 points and Harris 21.
They barely played alongside each other after that because of Gallinari’s recurring injuries. Yet Harris was hopeful such production could be recreated this season.
“It creates an imbalance for teams trying to defend — switching, spacing,” Harris said. “We’re just flowing off each other. I think there are a lot of times where his ability to score has been able to open up things for me and vice versa.”
Entering the matchup with the Hawks, Harris, Gallinari and Lou Williams were the only trio of teammates in the NBA to score in double figures in each of their team’s games.
Injuries have cost Gallinari a third of his career regular-season games but he has remained durable in his second season with the Clippers and has scored 19.6 points a game, four more than his career average. He is among five players in the league averaging 19-plus points in less than 30 minutes a game.
“Even when he played he wasn’t healthy” last season, Rivers said. “He’s way better when you see him play. He’s just so much more skilled. I think the biggest surprise for all of us is his defense. He is a very smart defender, great team defender. If you run a team defensive system Gal is perfect for that because he’s probably our best talker on defense.”
Without Gallinari, Harris shouldered a heavier burden for scoring and had 17 of his 24 points in the first half.
Going for three
With Gallinari out, Avery Bradley returned for his first action in six games and joined the starters for a little-used three-guard lineup.
Bradley, Patrick Beverley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had shared the court together for less than a minute combined entering Monday and Rivers acknowledged he was unsure of their effectiveness together.
He was hopeful the return of Bradley, the team’s best defender in Rivers’ estimation, would improve a defense that ranked 22nd in points allowed per possession during the team’s four-game winning streak. Saturday’s victory against Brooklyn was “the first game we had to wait for our defense,” Rivers said, and things weren’t much stingier to start against the Hawks, who made 14 of 22 shots in the first quarter.
“I know when we’re physical and into the ball we’re a better defensive team,” Rivers said. “You lose an Avery on any team your defense is going to take a hit. You lose a Luc [Mbah a Moute] on any team you’re defense is going to take a hit. In some ways, it has.”
Young vs. young Rivers
As the Hawks and Clippers warmed up, a graphic comparing two rookie Atlanta guards ran on the arena’s scoreboard. On the left side was Rivers, with Trae Young on the right.
Rivers averaged 9.3 points, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.1 turnovers as a rookie in 1983-84. He went on to become the franchise’s career assists leader. Young, the fifth overall pick in June’s NBA draft, is fourth in the NBA with 7.8 assists per game while averaging 19.6 points, most among rookies.
“Good young player,” Rivers said. “Watching him pass, he’s as good of a passer as we have. He obviously can score but I think his passing is what makes him more dangerous.”
CLIPPERS AT WASHINGTON WIZARDS
When: Tuesday, 4 p.m.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.