Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe have found roles in shaky Clippers lineup
Compared with the rest of the NBA, the Clippers’ most-used lineup this season has been barely used.
Sixteen teams boast a lineup that has played more than the 358 possessions shared by Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, Nicolas Batum and Ivica Zubac — including one team, the exceptionally healthy Utah Jazz, which has two lineups with more, according to Cleaning The Glass.
It should go without saying that in lieu of lineup stability, the Clippers (19-18) have been forced to lean on their creativity, testing combinations who have barely, if ever, played together. And yet in Saturday’s stunning 120-116 win in Brooklyn, so much of the team’s offensive firepower came from reuniting a duo that had once been a staple of their early-season lineups only to be split up for the last month.
The backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Reggie Jackson combined for 46 points, making 15 of their 27 shots, to outscore Brooklyn by 14 points in their 28 minutes together.
“It feels good to have the ball in your hands a little bit more, but it’s good to have Reg back too,” Bledsoe said. “You just gotta keep fighting, keep pushing. Scratch and claw and try to get these wins so we can make the playoffs.”
Eric Bledsoe has season-high 27 points and a makeshift lineup hits some big shots as the short-handed Clippers rally to beat the Brooklyn Nets 120-116.
It was notable because both players had begun playing some of their best basketball this season when coach Tyronn Lue opted to break up their starting backcourt on Dec. 3 and give each his own unit to lead as the primary ballhandler — Jackson the starters, Bledsoe the bench.
The change clarified their roles. In 14 games since, with Jackson primarily playing with a different unit or out of the lineup because of health and safety protocols, Bledsoe had turned around a poor-shooting start to the season by making 39% of his three-point attempts and 42% of his shots overall. Jackson, meanwhile, had made 35% of his three-point tries in the 10 games since the switch, before Saturday.
It’s unknown how long the Clippers plan to keep the duo together in the same unit, because it’s unknown whom the team will have available from night to night, amid a rash of players entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols. But it worked against the Nets — and could it continue?
“As a coach, that is what you want to happen,” acting coach Brian Shaw said. “Not necessarily be your turn or my turn, just make the right play. I thought tonight we did a better job of doing that. We talked about before the game, matchups where [Friday vs. Toronto] I thought when Reggie started the game, I thought he maybe overhandled a little bit.
“And tonight I made a point before the game, to say hey, if we are just coming down in the flow, kind of in a semi-transition, you got one and a half seconds to shoot it or to move it. And if you got the shot, take it. If you don’t, move it. … I think he did a lot better job of doing that, which in turn made Bled feel more engaged in the game as well.”
Their short-handed circumstances remain clearly less than ideal. But at least Saturday, they delivered benefits. With so many new players integrated into the game plan, the Clippers had to dramatically pare their offensive playbook. Shaw called Lue a “basketball savant” who uses feel and timing to pluck from an extensive mental “menu of plays.” It’s an ability Shaw said is unique even among coaches.
“I consider myself a student of the game, fairly intelligent, but I don’t have a grasp of all the stuff that we run, even now that he runs,” Shaw said.
Shaw and Lue spoke extensively before Saturday’s game, with Lue giving his assistant free rein over how the game would be called. Knowing he would be playing lineups including Xavier Moon, James Ennis III and Wenyen Gabriel — all signed since Dec. 26 — Shaw didn’t want to overwhelm players who barely knew one another’s tendencies.
“For me, it was kind of a tailor-made situation to just really, really simplify,” Shaw said. “We took some of the stuff that we run, but instead of really trying to get to the second and third option of it, we kind of struck early and cut some of that out. … If the ball swings your way and it is in the rhythm of the offense, take the shots that were there and I thought they did that.”
Instead, Shaw leaned hard on two players whose first six weeks together this season have taught them how to play with one another, even if the results were inconsistent. Bledsoe‘s and Jackson’s success shone a spotlight once again on Bledsoe’s durability, as one of the few constants in a season defined by a churning lineup. He has averaged more than 19 points in his last five games as a starter.
With starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. resting on the bench after several high-usage nights — Shaw said that Lue had called Morris before the game to tell him the plan — Bledsoe felt the night hinged on his and Jackson’s aggressive play.
“Obviously he’s more comfortable physically out there,” Terance Mann said of Bledsoe. “He just got to our team after we went to the Western Conference finals. So it’s kind of hard for a player to just come in and find ... the role that he’s playing now right away. It takes some time. And he learned that. And now ... he’s jelled with us.”
With coach Tyronn Lue in COVID-19 protocols and eight players unavailable, the Clippers fight to the finish but fall 116-108 to the Raptors in Toronto.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
On the air: TV: Bally Sports; Radio: 570, 1330
Update: Minnesota will be playing for the second consecutive night, coming off Sunday’s game against the Lakers. The Timberwolves, whose 15.5 second-chance points per game rank third-most in the league, have the ability to capitalize on the Clippers’ defensive-rebounding weakness. They are also attempting a league-high 41.6 three-pointers, though their accuracy from deep ranks just 23rd.
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