Clippers guard Lou Williams has carved out a 15-year NBA career by doing things bench players don’t normally do.
Since the beginning of last season, only Kawhi Leonard has made more go-ahead baskets in the final minute than Williams. Only one other player, Jamal Crawford, can match Williams’ three sixth-man trophies. And no reserve has ever scored more points in a career.
But Thursday night at Staples Center, Williams did something that even he doesn’t normally do: He got ejected.
Typically one of the most laid-back members of a team coach Doc Rivers calls a “pretty calm group,” Williams boiled over after being whistled for a reaching foul while guarding Houston’s Russell Westbrook with 11:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. After continuing to contest the call with official Kane Fitzgerald, Williams was assessed two technical fouls and tossed, continuing to yell on his way off the court.
In a career spanning 1,022 games, including the postseason, it was only Williams’ second ejection. His first was Nov. 20, 2018.
Williams wasn’t in the locker room following the game — such was the mood after the 122-117 defeat that nearly every player had dressed and left by the time the door opened — to explain what set him off. But late Thursday night he tweeted what led to his reaction to officials: “Respect wasn’t being reciprocated lol.”
“Lou got heated and there was no turning back,” Rivers said. “That happens; it should never happen in the fourth quarter, no matter what’s going on. We just cannot get techs in the fourth quarter, let alone one of our better scorers, when we’re struggling, get thrown out of a game. Even if Lou’s right or wrong, to me, that’s the time to be the bigger man on that one and walk away.
“But listen, I would say I thought that Kane waited and gave us a chance. I tried to grab Lou, we all tried to grab him, but at some point, I thought the official had to do his job.”
Teammate Patrick Beverley was later ejected as well, leaving the Clippers without two of their critical crunch-time players. Williams’ average of 5.0 points per fourth quarter ranks third on the team. The absences shifted more playmaking responsibility to Leonard and Paul George.
“Seeing some of our key guys get kicked out and them not being in those moments where we work on it at practice, sometimes it got confusing,” Leonard said. The forward added he compensated by “basically just trying to get us into an offense and just figure out what’s really going on out there.”
Said Rivers: “It’s a good lesson, maybe. I’d rather for it to happen now than in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, I guess. We’ll see if that’s a learning lesson. The techs have to be; that’s something we can control.”
One benefit of not yet playing with a fully healthy roster at any point this season? The Clippers have yet to show off all of the wrinkles they could employ later this season.
“There are a couple lineups we actually haven’t used that we think we have in our back pocket,” Rivers said.
Technically, the pairing of centers Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell has already been used, yet they have played together for fewer than three minutes, making the combination essentially untapped. Zubac is a 7-foot fixture of starting lineups. The 6-foot-7 Harrell has starred among the Clippers’ late-game closers and become a top candidate for the NBA’s top reserve because of it. Rivers envisions using them together alongside the 6-8 George, 6-7 Leonard and 6-4 Landry Shamet.
“We actually think we could do it against a small lineup too, where if there’s a four on the floor that [Harrell] can guard we believe we can actually go big,” Rivers said. “Most teams match up and go smaller. We’ve been looking at it a lot like, let’s go bigger, and see what happens.”
On paper, Zubac would fortify the Clippers’ interior defense while also keeping Harrell’s scoring punch on the floor. Both are adept at rolling to the basket off screens and have become trusted targets. One issue could be spacing on offense. With neither big man a threat to shoot beyond the three-point line, opposing defenders are unlikely to follow them toward the perimeter.
AT SAN ANTONIO
When: 5:30 p.m. PST, Saturday
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570
Update: Clippers forward JaMychal Green was listed by the team as questionable to play against the Spurs (11-16). The season series is tied at 1-1. Since the last meeting Nov. 29, Los Angeles (21-9) ranks fifth in the league in defensive efficiency while the Spurs rank eighth. Also in that span, however, the Spurs have sunk to 29th in offensive efficiency, averaging just shy of 103 points per 100 possessions. San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan, famously averse to shooting three-pointers, made his first regular-season three-pointer of the calendar year during his last meeting with the Clippers. He has attempted 13 more, making four, since then.