Most Clippers players didn’t know Rodney McGruder when he was claimed off waivers in April, but after he joined the team in the Bay Area for the start of its first-round playoff series against Golden State, they understood how the undrafted guard out of Kansas State had worked his way into a starting role in Miami.
“Man, he’s one of the hard-nosed, tough defenders, especially out there causing a lot of havoc,” center Montrezl Harrell said.
He was causing more during the third quarter of a game Wednesday night in Memphis, turning a steal into a fastbreak layup on the other end. Immediately upon landing, however, the typically stoic guard grimaced and reached for the back of his right leg.
McGruder was not in the locker room following the Clippers’ 121-119 comeback victory over the Grizzlies, but the early signs from his injury were not encouraging for a backcourt already down shooting guard Landry Shamet. Harrell said he had heard McGruder pulled a hamstring.
“I’ve seen those and I’ve had them, and where he was grabbing, my guess it’s not a good injury,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He was playing terrific, driving, defensively. Rodney’s been fantastic for us, but my guess he’ll be out for a while.”
After missing four games to start the regular season and failing to score in his first five appearances, McGruder had been at his most consistent recently, averaging 6.7 points on 56% shooting, with 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists, in the three games leading up to Wednesday’s victory in Memphis. After starting in place of Kawhi Leonard against the Grizzlies — Leonard sat because of a sore left knee — McGruder passed on early long shot attempts but found driving lanes into the defense and finished with seven points and five rebounds in nearly 23 minutes.
The Clippers have recalled Derrick Walton Jr. from their G League affiliate to bolster their backcourt reserves, and a heavier workload could be coming for rookie Terance Mann and second-year player Jerome Robinson. Maurice Harkless, a 6-foot-9 forward who has been the rotation’s Swiss Army knife, starting everywhere from shooting guard to power forward, could also receive extended minutes, forward Patrick Patterson said, “because he’s exceptional at guarding guards along the perimeter.”
“[McGruder] brings a lot of energy to the floor. He brings defense. He brings offensive rebounding, gets to the basket, puts pressure on the defense,” Harkless said. “Obviously, if he can’t play moving forward, it’s going to be another blow to us, but having Kawhi back will help. Other guys have to step up. Terance, Rome probably will play a little more minutes.”
Both Mann and Robinson have appeared in 14 of the Clippers’ 19 games, with Robinson averaging nearly 11 minutes and Mann more than eight a night.
Patrick Patterson’s promise
Before Paul George’s Clippers debut Nov. 14 in New Orleans, the team met briefly to discuss the new lineup accompanying his return. Not only was George back but Harkless was joining him among the starters. Feeling the squeeze the most from the change was Patterson, who had averaged nearly 21 minutes his first 10 games and had started his first 11, only to average fewer than five minutes of action since, with two games in which he did not appear at all.
At the end of the discussion, Rivers invited concerns or questions, and Patterson approached.
“I told Doc whenever my name’s called, whenever my number’s called, whether it’s the fourth quarter with three minutes, whether it’s the first quarter and someone’s in foul trouble, whether you don’t like the momentum or the way the game’s going and you want to see if I can change it, I’ll always be ready,” Patterson said.
What he said then proved prescient against Memphis, as Patterson scored 10 points in seven minutes and also drew a charge and disrupted, for a time, the interior dominance of opposing center Jonas Valanciunas.
“Pat Patterson was huge for us,” Rivers said, and his teammates echoed the sentiment.
“He hadn’t played in a few games. He [got] out there and made some big shots, gave us tremendous energy that we needed,” said guard Lou Williams.
Added Harkless: “Another example of being a pro.”
The Clippers signed Patterson in August partly because they believed in his track record of stretching defenses as a three-point-shooting forward. But another factor was his reputation as a strong locker room presence regardless of his role. That included last season, when he was praised for his leadership despite sitting 24 of Oklahoma City’s final 29 games.
“Ten years in this league, that’s what it comes down to — staying ready, knowing my role, knowing my job,” Patterson said. “Come in, energy, hit shots, rebound, defend. Whenever my name’s called, whenever my number’s called, be prepared to do that game in and game out.”
When: 5:30 p.m. PST, Friday
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Update: Two teams traveling in different directions meet Friday at AT&T Center. The Spurs (6-13) have lost 10 of their last 11, with their defensive rating ranked 26th. The Clippers’ seven-game winning streak matches their longest since the end of the 2016-17 season. Since the streak began, they rank fifth in offensive rating, second in defensive rating, third in net rating and among the very best at creating extra opportunities. During this run, the Clippers (14-5) have grabbed a league-leading 32.7% of available offensive rebounds while producing the league’s fourth-lowest turnover rate. And defensively, they’ve grabbed 9.3 steals, third in the NBA.