Short-handed Clippers battle to overtime but fall to Cavaliers to end trip
Tyronn Lue returned to the city he once toured amid a championship parade, wanting a win, not a tribute video of past memories.
But when his moment arrived Monday between the first and second quarters and the Cleveland Cavaliers played a long video extolling the 2016 championship team he led, the Clippers coach didn’t ignore it. Lue waved when Rocket Mortgage Field House’s jumbotron showed his face before Cavaliers forward Kevin Love wrapped him in a hug.
“It felt good, just to be welcomed back, and just to reflect on the great memories we had here, for those four years — for those four, great years,” Lue said.
And then it was back to business, the coach doing again what prompted such cheers from Cavaliers fans — facing dire circumstances, using any means necessary to manufacture a win.
Despite starters Marcus Morris Sr. and point guard Reggie Jackson resting one night after combining for 46 points in Detroit — part of the Clippers’ plan to rest key contributors before mid-April’s postseason play-in tournament — and just nine players available to play their fifth game in seven nights, Lue insisted before tipoff that the Clippers aimed to win.
For 51 minutes, through scorching early shooting, cobbled-together lineup combinations featuring two centers, slump-busting shots by Amir Coffey and Terance Mann and ball movement that defied their lack of a traditional point guard, the Clippers nearly did enough to prevail. Despite never leading in the fourth quarter or overtime, they trailed by just one with 2:26 to play in the extra period after a Nicolas Batum three-pointer.
Marcus Morris Sr. scores 31 points to help the Clippers overcome a big first-half deficit in a 106-102 victory over the Pistons in Detroit.
It would be their last field goal, with a three-pointer by All-Star Cleveland guard Darius Garland answering Batum’s shot to push the Cavaliers’ lead to four in their eventual 120-111 win.
To Lue, there were no lessons to draw from a game played without their lone, traditional point guard in Jackson. And yet Lue’s intent for the last 11 games of the regular season is to put his team in the best position possible for making the postseason, with the Clippers all but certain to finish eighth, and finishing with 29 assists on 43 baskets, against only 11 turnovers, held at least some value in living up to Lue’s expectations of playing, as he calls it, the right way, even when Morris and Jackson return.
“We did a good job attacking the paint and kind of kicking the ball out and … that’s how we always play no matter who’s on the floor,” said center Ivica Zubac, whose 24 points and 14 rebounds were both team highs. “Everyone’s trying to make a play for each other and the next guy make the extra pass.”
Acknowledged Lue: “For these guys to have 29 assists with no point guard and try to play the right way, it was good to see. So hopefully we can grow from this.”
The Clippers (36-35) assisted on 16 of their first 17 baskets and made half of their shots in the first half, including eight of their 16 three-point attempts one day after missing their first 11 three-point tries in Detroit. Coffey, who had been shooting 29% from three-point range since returning to a reserve role Feb. 8, made his first two three-point shots and four overall to finish with 19 points.
And Mann, after missing his first eight shots, shrugged off a five-for-16 start to make his first three-pointer for a 100-all tie. And with 1:44 to play, the ball swung to him again deep behind the line and Mann made another three-pointer for a 103-all tie.
But in a game that trended young, the Cavaliers (39-29) had blossoming stars who were the difference, with former USC star and rookie-of-the-year favorite Evan Mobley scoring a season-high 30 points with six rebounds and blocking a Zubac shot so forcefully in overtime that the 7-foot Clipper fell to the floor.
Zubac would get his revenge with a block, but Mobley later stole a pass by Batum, dunked off an assist from Garland and assisted Isaac Okoro on a layup with 89 seconds left for a four-point Cavaliers lead.
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.
“Thought we did a great job, just competing,” Lue said. “I thought we ran out of gas, especially when we had to go into overtime, that really hurt us.”
Help is arriving Tuesday for the Clippers when Robert Covington, the reserve forward with flypaper hands, rejoins the team in Los Angeles after missing five consecutive games because of personal reasons. The returns of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard remain uncertain, though injured guard Norman Powell said during a live Instagram video last week that there is still a chance he could return after not playing since Feb. 10.
Lue had returned twice to Cleveland since being fired in 2018 after a rocky start to the Cavaliers’ first attempt at a youth movement following LeBron James’ exodus, but as an assistant and, last year, in front of a pandemic-restricted crowd, he hadn’t been fully feted. Cleveland fans made their pleasure seeing him back known in the first quarter. By overtime, their cheers turned to roars as the most promising Cleveland team since the spring of 2018, when Lue was coaching, sent him home with a loss.
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