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When Tyronn Lue delivered a stern message, the Clippers responded

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue pulls down his mask and yells to his players during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue yells to his players during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, Jan. 8 at Crypto.com Arena.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It isn’t often that the Clippers see their coach the way they did Sunday morning, before the team was to hold a shoot-around in preparation for a game against the Atlanta Hawks.

“When he has a message like that,” forward Amir Coffey said, “everybody listens.”

Tyronn Lue is known to mix his work with fun, keeping the mood light during good times and bad, the hallmarks of enduring the rhythms of the long NBA schedule for more than two decades. But after three consecutive losses by 15 points — games in which the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies were more physical than the Clippers — and with the season reaching its midpoint Sunday, the coach felt it was time to be “laying the truth out there.”

It started with him. Lue took blame in front of the group for not managing better the lineup and rotations used the previous day, which were complicated by the limited number of minutes center Ivica Zubac and forward Nicolas Batum were able to play. He told players he didn’t want them feeling sorry for themselves, because even with Isaiah Hartenstein, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Luke Kennard and Justise Winslow sidelined because of injuries or COVID-19 protocols, “everybody else in the league is down in the same way.”

“We just can’t let that negativity seep in even though it’s getting hard,” he said, “and just can’t get mentally fatigued, is the biggest thing.”

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With little time to practice or hold shoot-arounds, Lue expects to see some amount of “slippage” in his team’s efficiency.

Amir Coffey tied a career high with 21 points and the Clippers kept Trae Young in check during a 106-93 victory on Sunday afternoon at Crypto.com Arena.

“And I understand that,” Lue said. “But you can’t have slippage in effort and toughness. And so that was pretty much the message.”

The Clippers might not have needed the session, given reminders have been everywhere about their trouble mustering the physicality their coach has demanded. Their trouble on the glass spans both ends of the court, ranking 27th in offensive rebounding percentage — the percentage of rebounds grabbed off of its own misses — and 26th in offensive rebounding percentage allowed.

“I’m cool to talk about it for an hour,” forward Nicolas Batum said Saturday of the Clippers’ shortcomings. “But we have to do it now.”

Whether because of accrued frustration or the spark of Lue’s speech, the Clippers found what they were looking for in the 106-93 victory over Atlanta on Sunday — the kind of performance they hope to continue even as their schedule remains unrelenting. From now until the end of January, the Clippers have at most one day between games.

The Clippers outrebounded Atlanta 47-39, stayed tethered to the Hawks’ shooters to deny passing lanes and showed the mental toughness and focus to wear down Atlanta, turning an eight-point lead with nine minutes to play into 19 seven minutes later.

“We came out with a little spark and we played hard, got the 50-50 balls,” said Coffey, who scored a season-high 21 points. “He just kind of let us know that we’re going to be down guys it’s going to be an up and down season but effort and hard work is something that we can’t lack. So yeah I thought we took that message pretty well and executed pretty well.”

Eric Bledsoe became the example of the bounce-back effort that Lue sought.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue discussed a report that star player Kawhi Leonard is optimistic about returning this season after knee surgery in July.

Twenty-four hours after registering just one assist while being held scoreless for the first time this season in a loss to Memphis, Bledsoe scored 12 points in 27 minutes off the bench, and his seven assists led to 16 more points. In the fourth quarter — as Bledsoe replaced the erratic Reggie Jackson, who was held out the entire quarter — his assists led to eight points.

“We got a lot of people out, so many main scorers, so we got to find other was to compensate that and we can’t lose a game by not playing with effort, by not playing hard,” Bledsoe said. “I think he did a great job of addressing it and we responded well.”

UP NEXT

VS. DENVER

When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports, NBATV; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: Denver’s Nikola Jokic continued his torrid play Sunday with 22 points and 18 rebounds in a win against Oklahoma City that improved the Nuggets’ record to 20-18, sixth in the Western Conference.


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