This is still coming together, this combination of the bite the Clippers developed last season and the skill they gained this season with the arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but sweeping a five-game homestand while playing a variety of combinations and styles has reinforced their confidence and put them in solid shape as they move into a challenging few weeks.
Now that they’ve gotten their act together they’ll have to take it on the road for nine of the next 11 games, but they believe they won’t experience a letdown when they leave the friendly confines of Staples Center.
The Clippers survived a third-quarter lull on Sunday before they awoke and ran off with a 134-109 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, fueled by Montrezl Harrell’s 34-point performance. That helped them compensate for Leonard’s seven-for-19 shooting while scoring 26 points and George’s six-for-20 effort, which included hitting just six of 16 three-point attempts.
“We’re a deep team, man, as you can see,” Harrell said. “On any given night anyone can have a big night. Any given night three or four guys can go off for a big night. It’s a great thing to have. It’s definitely going to help us going into the long stretch.
“I don’t really think there’s one particular guy you can be able to take away, and if you do, there’s still multiple guys you have to worry about.”
Harrell had the biggest night, and that’s no longer a surprise. He has become a reliable scorer and rebounder, and he accounted for nearly half of their 72 bench points on Sunday. “They can’t guard him. Not a lot of people can in this league,” center Ivica Zubac said, though he insisted he has stopped Harrell in practice.
What stands out as the biggest gain from the wins over Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Boston, Houston and New Orleans that improved the Clippers’ home record to 11-1 is that they’re trusting one another and getting a better sense of timing. They opened the homestand with a blowout win over the Hawks, scoring 150 points, and followed that with a strong defensive effort in a 90-88 victory over the Thunder. On Wednesday against Boston, after Jayson Tatum hit a three-point shot to tie the score in regulation, they pushed back to win in overtime.
On Friday against the Rockets, they ended the game with a 10-2 run, including the winning jumper by Leonard with 15 seconds left.
Leonard played Friday and Sunday but under a different kind of load management, with his playing time kept to around 28 minutes in both games.
“We’re so versatile,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Every night you can put out a lineup that you can create matchup problems, and that’s nice to have.”
No matter the challenge, they’ve faced it without hesitation. “The thing I like about this team is it’s so poised. No one points the finger,” Patrick Beverley said after a typically gritty 10-point, seven-rebound, four-assist effort. “When it’s time to come together we get tighter and closer, and that’s what it’s going to take this year.”
They’re only 1-4 on the road, but Leonard missed two of those because of load management and a sore knee. This will be their first chance to take their full lineup out of town.
“We’re going with the same mind-set that we have playing home games that we take it on the road with us,” Harrell said. “We’re going with the mind-set that we want to take that team out of what they do well and continue to do what we’re doing and do it at our pace and continue to build and keep winning.”
They gave themselves a reasonable shot at success by weathering the absence of Leonard and George and by capitalizing on a home-heavy early schedule. The next test is to keep this going.
“I thought this homestand was great for us. I think we learned we have to play with energy, we have to play with pace and make sure the ball is getting shared and I think we did that,” Lou Williams said after his 19-point performance Sunday.
“Now we have an opportunity to go out on the road, hang out a little bit, have some dinners, build some camaraderie. It should be good.”
They’ve been good so far. Whether they can be great should be apparent in this next stretch.
“We’ve got a great group of guys, man. There’s a lot of different lineups that we can put out there on the floor,” Harrell said. “We’re versatile across the board, offensively and defensively. We had some nail-biters and two big games that may be games of the year so far right now. This is great that we can still be able to run and collect wins while we’re still figuring it out.”