Last February, Tobias Harris was watching a Netflix series on Ted Bundy in his Charlotte hotel room, hours after his jump shot sealed a Clippers comeback victory on the road in the final seconds, when an incoming call from coach Doc Rivers lit up his phone.
It was well after 1 a.m. when Harris dropped by Rivers’ room. Once inside, the forward learned he was going to Philadelphia as part of a deal just before the NBA’s trade deadline that included six players, four draft picks and, for the Clippers, a whole lot of conviction.
The Clippers’ master plan was to acquire two superstars in the offseason, but they needed tradeable assets and financial flexibility to do it. Rivers understood the big-picture goal as well as anyone. But as he informed Harris, his leading scorer, he’d been traded on what he called a “tough night,” Rivers struggled to appreciate the move as an early step toward potentially pulling off an even bigger transaction.
“You have a plan,” Rivers said Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the trade, before the Clippers’ 128-111 victory over the Miami Heat at Staples Center. “But you don’t know if the plan’s going to work.”
The plan did work, of course, with Wednesday’s performance an example of the reward that resulted from the Clippers’ risk a year ago.
Paul George, whom the Clippers added from Oklahoma City using a draft pick acquired in the Harris trade, scored 23 points with a season-high 10 assists and overcame first-half foul trouble — earning three fouls in six minutes — to spur a third-quarter swing that rallied the Clippers out of a 12-point deficit in the first half. The other superstar offseason addition, Kawhi Leonard, scored 14 points with nine assists and seven rebounds and only one turnover.
Second-year guard Landry Shamet, who was part of that late-night trade with Philadelphia, scored 23 points, including 10 straight during the fourth quarter, helping the Clippers’ lead balloon from six with three minutes to play to 13.
Shamet’s six three-pointers helped the Clippers (36-15) set franchise records for three-pointers made (24) and attempted (54) while blowing apart the zone defense Miami has used more than any other team this season.
“I couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean to start the game,” Shamet said. “But my job is to shoot the ball and be a threat. That’s my mind-set — keep shooting.”
Eight Clippers scored in double figures and their 35 assists set a season-high.
“Our spacing was so bad in the first half and I was just trying to get [Shamet] and JaMychal [Green] and Lou [Williams] and PG and Kawhi just to understand if you get to these spots, you stretch their zone and there’s nothing they can do,” Rivers said. “In the first half I thought I was going to go nuts because it was there and they couldn’t see it. … Once they saw it they really took advantage of it and that was great.”
Miami’s All-Star guard, Jimmy Butler, left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return, unable to add to his 11 points in 25 minutes. Derrick Jones Jr. scored a team-high 25 points for the Heat (34-16).
The Clippers are 17-4 when Leonard and George play, and they are the foundation on which the Clippers’ championship hopes rest. And so one year after the trade deadline brought huge changes to their roster, the Clippers’ front office has approached Thursday’s noon PST deadline seeking incremental improvements to bolster their superstar core.
They have engaged New York in talks about acquiring Knicks forward Marcus Morris, a target of the Clippers in free agency last summer who is averaging 19 points a game. The Clippers are willing to part with forward Maurice Harkless but have expressed a strong desire to keep Shamet, whom the Knicks want, out of any deal, according to several people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
One year after Shamet was woken up by a call informing him he was heading to Los Angeles, his 23 points were the most he has scored in a Clippers uniform.
“We want Sham to shoot, we’re happy when he’s aggressive with his shot,” George said. “I keep saying it, it’s a huge weapon he has.”
“I think we’re very comfortable where we are as a group,” said Williams, who scored 14 points. “Obviously, if a home run [trade] comes past, I’m sure management are doing their due diligence.
“But other than that, I’m super excited about the group of guys that we have.”