Clippers shake off slow start to beat Pistons on the road

Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. is closely defended by Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III.
Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. tries to power his way to the basket past Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III on Sunday afternoon in Detroit.
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Inside a room once reserved as a Zamboni’s parking spot, point guard Reggie Jackson spent Friday night in Atlanta blaming himself for the Clippers’ rebounding woes and their ice-cold offense. The biggest optimist on the roster looked drained.

Two days later here inside Little Caesars Arena, after the Clippers had finished their 106-102 win against Detroit, Jackson jogged into a postgame interview after dancing for Pistons fans who cheered as though he still played for their team, turning his hands into the shape of a heart and belting bars from the ‘90s hit “Return of the Mack.”

The contrast in postgame emotions was stark. It was also wholly appropriate for a Clippers roster that might be the NBA’s most mercurial, the team for whom things change so quickly.


Sunday marked the return of the Clippers comeback, the 12th time they have won this season after trailing by double digits, the connecting thread to each being defense and a confidence that a slow start can be rescued by a strong finish.

The Atlanta Hawks beat the Clippers on the boards and got 27 points from Trae Young in a 112-106 win. Marcus Morris Sr. was ejected in the second half.

March 11, 2022

“When we start moving the ball, and trusting each other, I feel like we can, any time we’re down, we can come back,” said center Ivica Zubac, who finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.

Marcus Morris Sr. scored a season-high 31 points, Jackson finished with 15 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and just one turnover and the Clippers turned the ball over just six times and allowed only six second-chance points.

Playing their fourth game in six days, the Clippers immediately appeared out of gas in the Motor City. Terance Mann missed a layup, Luke Kennard — one of the NBA’s elite shooters — shot an airball and the Clippers missed their first 11 three-pointers during a first half in which they shot 31% and trailed by 18 against a Detroit team tied for the league’s second-fewest victories, even after winning six of their previous 10 games entering Sunday.

Coach Tyronn Lue liked the quality of his team’s shots and the way that Kennard was shooting immediately when open instead of passing up opportunities, as he had done to Lue’s frustration Friday. Lue felt the defense could tighten further on a youthful Pistons team. He instructed the Clippers to keep targeting a switching Pistons (18-50) defense that left smaller players on Zubac in the post and didn’t have an answer for Morris.

Jackson’s leap toward the hardwood to wrangle a loose ball with 2:49 to play in third quarter forced a jump ball that energized the Clippers and accelerated the rally. Nicolas Batum then dunked after chasing down the ball, Zubac forced a miss and another stark difference from Friday was unfolding.


“Those are great momentum plays,” Lue said. “Those are winning plays.”

After struggling mightily to maintain control during the final minutes of Friday’s second, third and fourth quarters in Atlanta, the Clippers (36-34) outscored Detroit 13-5 in the final four minutes of the third to trim their deficit to just two, and they closed out the Pistons by outscoring them by six in the fourth quarter, with Kennard scoring 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.

Two nights after Morris was ejected in Atlanta after arguing a travel with too much profanity for an official’s liking, he kept the Clippers afloat with 15 first-half points, and this time he was on the court to finish, his jumper from 16 feet pushing the Clippers’ lead to 102-96 with 36 seconds to play, and his free throws pushing the lead to six with 13 seconds left.

“We just had to make some minor adjustments and kind of play some old school basketball, seeking out the mismatch,” Lue said. “If they are going to switch one through five, establishing Zu early in that third quarter, Marcus as well. Marcus really aimed to really feast off of what they were doing and Reggie orchestrated the game beautifully tonight, just controlling the game, controlling the pace, understanding what we were trying to do and how we were trying to attack this team.”

Jackson’s postgame displays of affection toward Pistons fans was his way of showing gratitude, he said, toward the city where he felt he matured after a rocky start to his career in Oklahoma City.

“I felt like I came here a rugrat, I was a baby and they raised me,” he said.

The Clippers’ collection of overachievers who erase gargantuan deficits needs injured superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back for a title push.

March 10, 2022

There is even more appreciation within Jackson for his current station, saying that Lue’s style has empowered him to play instinctually and the coach’s stoic nature has helped his own composure. Jackson played the entire second half on his way to 39 minutes and Lue hinted that the point guard will not play Monday in Cleveland as part of his plan to find rest for the contributors whose workloads have increased during this short-handed season.

Lue acknowledged Friday that the near certainty that the Clippers will finish as the eighth seed in the Western Conference has changed his approach to the last 12 games of the regular season, with rest at the top of his list.


Jackson had trudged out of Atlanta’s arena Friday. Two days later, he looked like he could have played 39 more minutes, a difference that would have been stunning if it wasn’t so routine.



When: 4 p.m. PDT, Monday

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

Update: Cleveland (38-29) has won three of its last 11 games. Former USC star Evan Mobley has continued to bolster his campaign for top rookie by averaging 14.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. The Cavaliers are 9.9 points per 100 possessions better with all-star guard Darius Garland on the floor.