Amir Coffey leads Clippers to win over Hawks, snapping three-game losing streak
Since Amir Coffey entered the NBA in 2019, his career has revolved around always saying yes.
If the Clippers need minutes at shooting guard, small forward or even power forward, Coffey has happily obliged. Shuttling between his third G League season and the NBA? He’ll jump on the next bus to Ontario. Such dependability and versatility made him the closest thing to the Clippers’ Swiss Army knife — if they were 6 feet 7 and made in Minnesota.
By flashing another tool in his skill set amid a badly needed Clippers victory over Atlanta, the usually understated Coffey made a different kind of statement Sunday. To any questions of whether Coffey could continue to step in and make a difference, expanding his game in his third season, his teammates and coach offered a resounding answer to both: Yes.
Coffey’s 21 points and five three-pointers tied career highs and his rare usage as a ballhandler early on, probing weak spots in Atlanta’s porous defense, propelled the Clippers to a 106-93 win to break a three-game losing streak and a five-game skid at Crypto.com Arena.
“Playing the way he has just shows that he is ready for a deal, he is ready for a contract, and now he’s becoming a starter and playing the way he has, I’m just happy for him,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s all the work he’s put in.”
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue discussed a report that star player Kawhi Leonard is optimistic about returning this season after knee surgery in July.
This win combined elements that were missing amid a loss to Memphis only 24 hours earlier: the scoring of Eric Bledsoe, the presence of Serge Ibaka and the physicality of a team challenged at shootaround by Lue after displaying a lack of it Saturday.
Ibaka had 16 points while Bledsoe contributed 12 points and seven assists to steady the team’s guard play on a day when Reggie Jackson was yanked after a pair of mistakes and didn’t play in the fourth quarter, and Ivica Zubac finished with eight points and 13 rebounds. The Clippers won the first and third quarters by a combined 15 points to lead by as many as 19, and their rebounding advantage held Atlanta to 78 field-goal attempts after allowing 100 to Memphis.
It all began with Coffey taking charge during a 10-point first quarter by making his first four shots to power the offense when its usual engines, Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr., combined to make one of six shots.
“Amir is one of the few players on the team that compete at a high level each and every game and he was being aggressive,” Bledsoe said. “And we need him to be aggressive, especially being that we need, you know, people to score. And he did a great job on both ends of playing great defense and looking for his shot.”
The undrafted Coffey signing a two-way contract during Summer League in 2019 was largely lost amid the team’s other additions that week — trading for Paul George and signing Kawhi Leonard. Now, after Coffey was not re-signed on a two-way deal until days before training camp began, his patience and progress have paid off while his opportunities have flourished as George and Leonard recover from injuries and other absences continue to pile up. Justise Winslow joined Luke Kennard in health and safety protocols Sunday.
In December, as 10-day hardship contracts flooded the league, Coffey dubbed this a “stay-ready year.” Within the Clippers, perhaps no one has lived up to that label as much as the 24-year-old.
He had appeared in nine consecutive games entering Sunday, averaging 26 minutes while making 37% of his three-pointers and shooting 46% overall. Inspiration for his do-everything role, he said, has come from watching his older sister, Nia, play the same way for the Sparks.
“He can help us win and he’s doing that right now and I’m proud of him,” Bledsoe said.
Coffey’s rangy size has allowed coaches to use him as a versatile defender. He fell to the court in Sunday’s first half to deflect a Hawk’s dribble out of bounds and secure a Clippers possession. After halftime, he twice induced misses by 6-9 John Collins near the basket with physical contests.
Coffey’s shooting took a step forward last season, jumping from 31% behind the three-point arc as a rookie to 41%.
What is new is his increasing comfort acting as a playmaker, including in pick-and-rolls. Instead of dribbling into a clear lane to the rim, he instead skipped a pass to an open Nicolas Batum for a three-pointer and a 22-19 lead. His three assists led to nine points.
“Shooting the basketball as well as he did kind of opened the game up for us, but also attacking and getting to the basket and making some good passes, as well. And I thought offensively that’s the best we played in a while,” Lue said.
Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 19 points for the Hawks (17-22), but former Clipper Lou Williams, returning to L.A. for the first time since the Clippers traded him in March, never played a second. After a minute-long video tribute to Williams played during the first quarter, he tapped a hand over his heart toward fans who watched him win two of his three sixth-man awards as a Clipper.
Coffey then earned his own moment to be feted. Teammates doused him with cups of water during his postgame interview.
“Tonight was my night,” he said. “Next game it could be somebody else’s night.”
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