Playing his first significant minutes in four games, backup Boban Marjanovic was one of few bright spots during a 96-86 Clippers loss Wednesday to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The 7-foot-3 center spurred a comeback and scored a season-high 19 points, the first time he led his team in scoring this season.
The Clippers trailed by 16 points when Marjanovic checked in with 6:40 to play in the second quarter and outscored Memphis 22-15 from that point until halftime. He scored 12 points in that span as the Clippers cut their deficit to as little as six points.
“He came in and gave us great energy,” forward Tobias Harris said. “He got us some more possessions with offensive rebounds. I thought he did a great job defensively too, so he just was everywhere tonight and offensively did what he does and scored the basketball.
“He gave us a huge spark. He was a big key for us making runs there in the first half, second half.”
Said guard Patrick Beverley: “He’s a cheat code. We know he’s a cheat code and we put the cheat code in today. But we needed some type of energy. And he did his job. He came in and did what he was supposed to do.”
On a night when the Clippers shot 33.8%, Marjanovic made four of his five field goals and 11 of his 12 free throws and also grabbed eight rebounds in 13 minutes. He was one of only four Clippers to finish with a positive plus/minus.
Four games after Marjanovic’s size rattled Phoenix rookie center Deandre Ayton into a season-low four points, Marjanovic’s presence altered the decision-making of the Grizzlies who drove into the paint and left an impression on Memphis rookie forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
“He’s 7-8,” Jackson said.
With so much offense flowing through Marjanovic, fellow reserve center Montrezl Harrell failed to score in double figures for the first time in 15 games.
The Grizzlies received a boost from their own backup center Wednesday.
One day after signing a one-year deal with Memphis, Joakim Noah played his first NBA minutes since Jan. 23 by checking in to begin the second quarter. That was with New York, a team he fell out of favor with before being waived in October.
He’d spent only one practice and one shoot-around around his new teammates before seeing game action. Rust was inevitable after such a layoff but coach J.B. Bickerstaff believed it could be mitigated by his experience. Noah was the NBA’s defensive player of the year in 2014.
There was “a little bit more trash talking in the gym yesterday,” Bickerstaff said of Noah’s first practice. “From a defensive standpoint there’s nothing he hasn’t seen. It’s not like we’re over here reinventing the wheel and coming up with some sort of side-eyed techniques so he knows how to do the things we’re asking him to do and because he is experienced and intelligent, if not he can figure it out.”
Noah tipped in a missed shot for a basket to beat the third-quarter buzzer, and finished with four points in nearly 13 minutes.