Landry Shamet insisted the Clippers hadn’t talked among themselves about the NBA trade deadline, but their actions Wednesday night suggested otherwise.
Montrezl Harrell and Paul George, still dressing after the Clippers had shredded Miami’s zone defense in an impressive 128-111 victory over one of the top teams in the East, eagerly pulled their phones out in the locker room at Staples Center to catch up on the action around the league. Some of that action was happening down the hall and involved the Heat, which was finalizing a deal to add veteran Andre Iguodala from Memphis.
Shamet’s name was mentioned often in the days leading up to the deadline, but the Clippers wisely kept him while still upgrading at forward. Trading Maurice Harkless to the New York Knicks on Thursday for Marcus Morris, a 43.9% shooter from three-point range and solid defensive player, gives the already deep Clippers another scoring dimension and accomplished it with a minimum of disruption.
That’s important because the Clippers are still smoothing out all the ripples from adding George and Kawhi Leonard last summer. In winning their third straight game and fifth in the last six the Clippers made progress on Wednesday toward finding the cohesion they lacked earlier in the season. They’ve enjoyed some continuity without major injuries to disrupt them and have provided glimpses of the level they might reach someday, a day that doesn’t seem far off anymore.
Keeping Shamet made sense for them, especially after he persuasively stated his case for staying by scoring 23 points on Wednesday, his most productive performance since he joined the Clippers in a trade with Philadelphia a year ago. He made it clear afterward that he wanted the band to stay together.
“Where are we in the West now?” Shamet asked, with the air of someone who knows the answer to the question he had asked.
“Yeah,” Shamet said. “We’re in the mix. I love our group. I think we’ve shown we have the pieces. It’s just a matter of continuing to find ourselves and keep figuring it out.”
He was among the eight Clippers who scored in double figures as they set franchise records for three-point shots attempted (54) and made (24). They also had a season-best 35 assists, led by George’s 10. “This is about the deepest team I’ve been on from top to bottom,” George said. “It’s unique, where we’ve got a great starting group, a great bench group, and you’ve got experience in both bench and starting groups. I think the best thing about it is no matter who’s in, who’s out, who’s plugged with which group, we keep it rolling and find ways to get guys looks.”
That depth grew when they added Morris on Thursday and kept Shamet.
In tying George for team-high scoring honors Shamet took 15 shots, a distinct improvement over the three shots he took against San Antonio on Monday. “Which I didn’t like,” coach Doc Rivers said.
Rivers, incidentally, was surprised Shamet hadn’t scored more than 23 points in a game as a Clipper before this. “That it? I’ve got to talk to Sham. We gotta do better than that,” Rivers said. “It’s good. Let’s keep breaking records. I don’t care about any records but I do care about winning.”
Shamet’s six-for-13 shooting from beyond the arc was crucial in the Clippers’ ability to overcome a slow start and outscore Miami by 15 in the third quarter and by five in the fourth quarter. The Clippers moved the ball well and made their shots as their offense flowed.
“It’s always been that. It’s just been a matter of finding our rhythm,” Shamet said. “I think that’s what we’re stepping into now, figuring out the best version of how this group, we need to play. I think we were just trying to search for it earlier in the year, which is normal. Still trying to search for it.
“I don’t think we’re perfect yet. We’ve had a few games where we’re stagnant but overall we’re fine and we’re starting to find it and figure it out. We need to play more of that brand of basketball, I think.”
George correctly noted the Clippers still must clean up their starts and be sharp enough to close out games, faults that have made some of their wins more difficult than those games should have been. Lou Williams, who had 14 points on Wednesday, sees other fixable flaws that have so far kept them from realizing their full potential.
“I think we still have stretches in a game where the ball is kind of stagnant and we’re not communicating on the defensive end,” Williams said. “I think in a lot of games, talent is still getting us through, so I think there’s a lot of things that still can be tightened up and worked on, on both ends of the floor. Are we close? I’m not sure, but we’re still growing.”
Keeping Shamet and adding Morris was their best course to achieve that growth.