In a star-less game, Clippers rout Bucks on Robert Covington’s career night

Clippers forward Robert Covington chases down a loose ball as Bucks guard Jevon Carter falls to the court.
Clippers forward Robert Covington chases down a loose ball as Bucks guard Jevon Carter falls to the court during the first half Friday night in Milwaukee.
(Jeffrey Phelps / Associated Press)

When Robert Covington’s third consecutive three-pointer ripped twine midway through Friday’s third quarter, a feeling began to spread and the volume began to raise inside Fiserv Forum’s Section 113.

Six of Covington’s family members were there, not far from the Clippers’ bench: His mother, Teresa; his stepfather, Dennis Bryant, who helped raise him; and an aunt had all made the trip from Illinois, along with three members of the extended family from Milwaukee. And it was after Covington’s run of buckets began that Bryant, having watched a teenage Covington score 60 in an Amateur Athletics Union game years earlier, felt instinct telling him that something special was again unfolding.

“We were right behind the basket,” Bryant said in a phone interview. “So we saw everything going in.”


It was a clear view to history amid a 153-119 Clippers victory that broke a 24-year-old franchise record for points. When Covington’s 10th three-pointer of the night dropped, his teammates told him in the ensuing timeout that he’d set the franchise record once held by JJ Redick and Caron Butler.

Paul George boosts the Clippers’ offense and gives coach Tyronn Lue new options, but scouts say some playoff matchup hurdles will be hard to overcome.

When he added an 11th three-pointer, Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo, resting in street clothes, told Covington to go for Klay Thompson’s NBA record of 14. And Bryant began to feel the incredulous eyes of Bucks fans and Clippers employees turning toward them as their celebration continued.

“They were just looking at us and it was like, man, I said, ‘They know who that is,’” Bryant said.

Covington’s career-high 43 points and teammate Amir Coffey’s career-high 32 lifted the Clippers to a startling offensive performance without receiving any help from starters Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris Sr., who all left the team after the previous night’s loss in Chicago and returned to Los Angeles to rest up ahead of a key game Sunday against New Orleans, which remained 3½ games behind the Clippers in ninth place after its win over the Lakers.

The win improved the Clippers to 38-40 and marked their 64th consecutive regular-season victory when reaching 100 points in the third quarter, a streak that reaches back to 1989. It also lowered their magic number to clinch the West’s eighth-best record — thus improving their margin for error to advance out of the play-in tournament by having possibly two chances to do so instead of one — to two.

The team’s new scoring mark was set on a dunk with 47 seconds left by — who else? — Covington. Teammates doused the 6-foot-7 wing with bottles of water inside the locker room, including a filled Gatorade jug center Isaiah Hartenstein poured over Covington’s head. He apologized for showing up to a postgame interview still drenched before calling it “a hell of a night tonight” — only the ninth player in NBA history to finish with at least 11 three-pointers and 43 points.

“That was fun to play, and we just kept playing the right way the entire game and never let up and guys played phenomenal,” Covington said. “You look at overall, assists and everything, we had 34 assists on 56 made field goals, so that just shows you how much we moved the ball. That’s phenomenal, that’s phenomenal.”

Coffey looked at the box score after the game, too, and seeing just eight available players — the league minimum — and Covington’s line said under his breath, “damn, RoCo, damn.”

“I mean he made some shots early,” coach Tyronn Lue said, “but I didn’t know it was going to be this kind of night. I am just happy for him.”

The Clippers’ 73 first-half points tied for their second-most scored in any half this season. Then they topped that after halftime with 80. They shot 60% overall behind 23 three-pointers, only the third time in team history they’ve made at least that many in one game.

Clippers' Luke Kennard drives against the Milwaukee Bucks' Serge Ibaka during the second half Friday.
(Jeffrey Phelps / Associated Press)

“You could just see the energy going out of them every three [Covington] hit,” Coffey said. “They were trying to throw different coverages at him, different players, different matchups, but he just kept hitting.”

Viewed initially after his arrival in early February as the other player acquired in a trade that netted the Clippers standout wing and potential lineup cornerstone Norman Powell from Portland, Covington has for two months continually left teammates raving about his flypaper hands on defense and fit in the locker room where he “clicked with us right away,” Coffey said.

All of it makes Covington’s future an intriguing aspect of the team’s offseason as it loads up for a renewed title pursuit in 2023. Covington will be a free agent but the Clippers possess his Bird Rights, which could help re-sign a forward the Clippers enjoy having around.

Between deflecting passes and making corner three-pointers, Covington has also earned respect for speaking openly about past mental health struggles brought on by injuries. It was that understanding of his at-times difficult pro career that left Friday’s stunning success worth savoring all the more, Bryant said.

Paul George boosts the Clippers’ offense and gives coach Tyronn Lue new options, but scouts say some playoff matchup hurdles will be hard to overcome.

“It’s just humble living and all that, that’s how we raised him,” he said. “He’s just humble from the beginning. And then just getting the opportunity, once he got on the floor, I didn’t worry about him after that.”

Covington said he also recognized that something unexpected was happening during his 17-point third quarter as he began a run of nine straight makes from deep and “the basket just kept getting bigger and bigger.” He said he knew his family was at the game, he didn’t know where they were sitting. After it was over, Bryant and the rest were waiting for him near the locker room.

“It does feel good to know that I did have family here and for them to witness that,” Covington said. “My teammates, throughout the game, they were telling me out there they was trying to get me 50, but the other team was like, ‘Nah, we can’t let you do that.’ So, I mean, I came close.”