Having witnessed his Clippers deliver the most lopsided home defeat in 50 seasons of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball, All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard left the visiting locker room Sunday night laughing.
This season, games in which Leonard has not played, such as Sunday‘s, have not always been so easygoing. Seven of the Clippers’ 16 losses have come when he has sat.
The moribund state of the Cavaliers, who have not won at home since Dec. 23, certainly was a factor in Sunday’s 133-92 rout. But so was forward Marcus Morris, whose debut provided a window into why his new team was so bullish about adding him before the trade deadline.
For as deep as the Clippers are, they have lacked shot-creators, scoring and edge in the absence of Leonard, George or both. When Leonard sits, the Clippers score 9.3 fewer points per 100 possessions and allow 3.4 more points.
Morris was acquired from New York not only to complement Leonard and George when the roster is at full strength, but also to fill the void when it is not.
“We gave him the ball in pick-and-rolls, we gave him the ball in the post, we got him three-point shots; he’s a very versatile scorer,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Especially on nights when you’re short-handed, without Kawhi and Pat [Beverley, who missed his second consecutive game], having another guy was big for us.”
With the Knicks, Morris rated as either above average or excellent as a spot-up shooter, ballhandler in pick-and-rolls and in isolations, according to Synergy Sports, and those strengths overlap with those of Leonard and George. The Clippers hope Morris, then, acts like an insurance policy on nights when their marquee stars are not available.
“He just gives us another guy that can score the ball,” guard Lou Williams said. “Inside, outside, very good shooter, very good post guy, plays physical. On the defensive end he’s a physical guy, he communicates, so it gives us another great look.”
The Knicks scored nearly 1.1 points per possession when Morris handled the ball in pick-and-rolls, a figure that ranked in the 84th percentile across the NBA, and the Clippers (37-16) immediately used him in the same way Sunday, with center Ivica Zubac often setting the pick.
“It will help it a lot, just me being able to play with the big and playing down in the seams and playing a little bit of pick-and-roll with four man and the three being able to spread,” Morris said.
When the 6-foot-1 Williams checked out five minutes into the first quarter, Rivers explored his first wrinkle with Morris on the floor by inserting 6-8 JaMychal Green at the four, which bumped the 6-8 Morris to the three. Together with the 7-foot Zubac, 6-8 George and 6-4 Landry Shamet, the group made five of eight field goals in four minutes.
“It just gave us size and ... we didn’t lose shooting because JaMychal’s a three-point shooter,” Rivers said. “When you’re that big with PG at the two, that’s a big team. That’s the first thing I think [Cleveland coach John Beilein] noticed after the game. He’s like, ‘Goodness gracious, you guys are big.’ But we can shoot and I think that really helps.”
Coffey gets a shot
Opportunities for rotation minutes have been few and far between for undrafted rookie forward Amir Coffey — such is life as a two-way player, bouncing between the G League and the NBA, on a team with title aspirations. Sunday in Cleveland was the exception.
Coffey entered long before the game became a blowout and helped build what became a 45-point lead with 10 points in 24 minutes. Cavaliers guarded by Coffey made one of four field goals. Rivers called Coffey’s playmaking and defense “phenomenal.”
“Hopefully that’s something he’ll be able to do for us in games to come,” Williams said.
Coffey was signed to a two-way contract July 2, only a few games after joining the Clippers’ Las Vegas summer league roster, and has averaged 15.2 points in the G League. He made his NBA debut Dec. 31. In Cleveland, he wasn’t tipped off that his role would be so prominent — his playing time was more than his three previous games combined.
“Wherever I’m at, G League or up here, I try to make the best of it,” Coffey said. “It was nice. Just trying to get in and find my flow with the team. Obviously, I’m out there for three-and-D, play defense, and just try to find a way to affect the game.”
Up next for Clippers: at Philadelphia
When: 4 p.m. PST, Tuesday
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket/TNT; Radio: 570
Update: Leonard, George and center Montrezl Harrell were among 44 finalists announced Monday for the U.S. Olympic team that will take 12 players to Tokyo this summer. In September, both George and Leonard said they would consider representing the U.S. this summer. George already won an Olympic gold medal, in 2016. … The 76ers (33-21) are 24-2 at Wells Fargo Center, the fewest home losses in the NBA. Former Clipper Tobias Harris, who was traded to Philadelphia one year ago and signed a five-year, $180-million contract to return in free agency, has averaged 19.1 points and 6.6 rebounds.
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