It was understandable that Clippers guard Lou Williams looked rusty Tuesday after missing two games because of a sore right calf, but his struggles were unacceptable to him and to his coach.
Williams, the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, made only one of his first six shots against Phoenix in the first half and felt the tide was surging against him as he tried to regain his rhythm. Not that he needed a reminder, but coach Doc Rivers made sure Williams knew the team needed more from him against the undermanned but scrappy Suns.
“I jokingly told him at halftime, I walked by him, ‘Are you going to make a shot today?’ ” Rivers said. “I was just kidding around. He may have taken it seriously.”
Williams agreed that Rivers had mentioned his shooting woes, but his version of the story diverged there. “He didn’t say it like that nice, though,” Williams said. “But I got the point.”
With the return of Williams — who went on to score 20 points — and of starter Patrick Beverley, who had missed the previous two games after suffering a concussion as the result of being elbowed in the head, the Clippers had their pulse and heart back again and all was right with their world, at least for the moment.
Paul George led them in scoring with 24 points in their 120-99 victory over the Suns, their 10th win in a row at home. But Williams’ sure scoring touch and Beverley’s unrestrained emotion were significant factors, and their contributions continue to be as important as everything George and Kawhi Leonard have done or will ever do for the Clippers.
Williams scored the team’s first 11 points of the fourth quarter, and when he finished his spree the Clippers were up by a comfortable 21. “We call him the professional scorer, and when he gets going there’s no shot that he can’t make,” Rivers said. “That was a big stretch for us because we had just taken Kawhi and PG off the floor. That stretch, with his offense, allowed us to keep them off the floor and give them some rest.”
That stretch also inspired fans at Staples Center to croon his name each time he touched the ball. Yet he never heard their serenades.
“I blank out, to be honest with you. Literally. If the crowd was chanting or saying anything, I promise you I didn’t hear it. None of it,” Williams said. “Just to be in a zone like that, my thing is to just keep putting numbers on the board. Make a shot, just keep going and keep going. That’s probably why my face is always blank and I’m not really emotional because I’m literally in like another world.”
Beverley had only nine points but he was the Clippers’ engine, drawing roars when he extended his full 6-foot-1 frame in the third quarter to block a shot by 7-footer Frank Kaminsky III. Beverley has only one gear — full-on — and he was his ferocious self.
“He plays hard every night. Every possession he’s out there talking and just into the game and we all feed off that,” Leonard said.
Beverley’s verbiage extended to uttering an obscenity during a postgame interview. Asked about how the Clippers battled through Tuesday’s game, he replied, “We ain’t [messing] around. We’re trying to win as many games as possible.” His response was broadcast in the arena and was heard unbleeped on Prime Ticket.
While TV play-by-play announcer Brian Sieman apologized to viewers, Beverley’s teammates laughed. That’s him, intense and competitive. After the game, instead of relaxing, Beverley was lifting weights. “Some nights guys might not have it, and just him talking and being in his own zone out there, we can feed off the energy and he makes you want to play harder,” Leonard said.
Beverley said it was difficult for him to miss the previous two games, at Minnesota and in his hometown of Chicago, but said he benefited from the decision. “It was a positive too that I was able to get some rest. A little bittersweet,” he said.
He said he felt good on Tuesday and was even happier with Williams’ strong performance. “Collectively, you see how deep this team is,” Beverley said. “One through, I don’t know how many played tonight, everybody showed up and impacted the game in their own way. It was fun. We defended, got some early stops, early runs.”
After months of juggling lineups because of injuries and Leonard’s knee/load management issues the Clippers are nearly whole now, with only JaMychal Green (tailbone contusion) missing. Players are still adjusting to one another but the picture of who they are and what they might become is coming into clearer focus. Facing the Houston Rockets at home on Thursday should provide another indication of where they are. “From top to bottom we would like to see what this team really looks like and start building some chemistry, but we’re doing a good job so far,” Williams said.
Beverley is ready to take that up a notch. “We’re excited to prove ourselves again, every game,” he said, “and we’ll come here with our lunch pail and our hard hat and try and get it done.”