Clippers’ Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris rise to Tyronn Lue’s challenge
It counted as one win but felt like they passed three separate tests.
In a 138-100 leveling of Sacramento on Friday to extend their road winning streak in the state capital to 15 games, the Clippers warded off another second-half malaise while receiving encouraging performances from point guard Reggie Jackson, who was in the starting lineup after being out of the rotation for a week, and forward Marcus Morris, who had endured an up-and-down start since returning from a knee injury that required nearly four months away from basketball.
Nursing an eight-point halftime lead despite forcing 10 turnovers and holding the Kings to five three-pointers, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue challenged his team to tighten its defense. It was no small ask.
The lineup was missing starting guard Patrick Beverley because of personal reasons and the intense guard’s absences have often corresponded to lapses in focus on defense. There was also the fact that the Clippers had given up 117.8 points per 100 possessions after halftime, the league’s second-worst rating.
“Our second-half defense has been really bad,” Lue said.
With his pride damaged by the Clippers’ playoff disaster last season, Paul George is determined to show the best possible version of himself.
The Clippers (9-4) responded by outscoring the Kings 37-16 in the third quarter.
“We’ve been having leads and we challenged our guys at halftime to be better defensively, set the tone, take the challenge one-on-one,” Lue said. “I thought in the first half they got the ball fast and scored, beat us off the dribble one-on-one and I thought in the third quarter our team really sat down and defended and took the challenge one-on-one. That was good to see.”
The Clippers helped themselves by not undercutting their own effort. Starters committed only four turnovers, with interim starter Jackson contributing zero. Jackson’s 11 points, four rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes came six days after a conversation with Lue in which the veteran guard was told he no longer had guaranteed minutes within the team’s slimmed-down, nine-man rotation. Jackson hadn’t played in either of the next two games.
“It was a hard conversation for me because I thought he was actually playing well,” Lue said. “But we couldn’t play all the guys, you know that coming into the season. … I talked to Reggie and he took it well. When you are a veteran and you’re a pro and you want to win, you do whatever it takes to try to win. I told him to stay ready, it’s a long season, with the COVID, injuries, things like that, you got to be ready.”
Jackson learned from teammate Kawhi Leonard that he would start at shoot-around Friday morning. Lue was pleased that Jackson responded with a controlled performance instead of attempting to do too much. Perhaps knowing his opportunities will be limited, Jackson dribbled in from the three-point line in the second half and rose for a flying right-handed dunk.
Highlights from the Clippers’ 138-100 road win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.
“Feels good, especially at 30, getting teased by my teammates, seeing an open lane and having a chance to attack,” Jackson said. “I had an injury-plagued past few years so just feeling like I’m getting my legs back under me and to feel somewhat 20 again, it felt great to go out there and get a dunk.”
Morris can empathize. The forward who signed a four-year, $64-million contract in free agency disclosed that a “little bit of tendinitis” kept him from training for nearly four months in the offseason.
“No running, nothing physical, no cutting or anything,” he said.
Morris began his recovery expecting the NBA would likely not begin its next season until January but when training camp opened in December, it delivered a setback as Morris missed more time than expected — three preseason games and eight regular-season games.
He said his weight is still higher than he would prefer, his legs have felt heavy, his conditioning is not yet in midseason form and until it is, he remains under a minutes restriction. But “my legs are so much stronger, I haven’t been dealing with any problems with my knees,” Morris said. “Once I get going, and once I get where I need to be, man, it’s gonna be trouble.”
Guard Patrick Beverley (personal reasons) didn’t play, but the Clippers still cruised to a 15th straight win, 138-100, over the Kings in Sacramento.
Since returning to the lineup Jan. 6 against Golden State, Morris had been “fidgety” trying to make the right decisions, Lue said.
“I just said, ‘Listen, I’m going to run [plays] for you out of timeouts, we’re going to get you shots, so you ain’t got to press,’” Lue said. “The way the ball was hopping and the way the guys are sharing the basketball you’re going to get open shots. You saw the result of that tonight.”
Against Sacramento, Morris scored 14 points in his first 14 minutes and finished with 18 points on seven-of-12 shooting with no turnovers. He has tried taking Lue’s message of patience to heart.
“I’m not really worried about anything,” he said. “It’s a long season. I’m a veteran. I’ve been here before, so just want the team to get better, continue to help my team win.”
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