Clippers endgame play brings them back to 0.500

Perhaps after playing in an NBA Finals and winning Game 7 as a coach, the stakes for a late February game between two teams headed for the play-in tournament pale in comparison.

Or maybe it was because he really liked the song.

In any case, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue didn’t sound like too worried a man that his team trailed the Lakers by one point on Friday with less than 90 seconds left while one of the The league’s closest ultimate, LeBron James, dribbled past with a chance to pad the lead. Lue nodded visibly and shifted her shoulders in time to the song playing over the Arena speakers, picking up the beat as she assessed whether her team could catch up.

It’s Lue, say his players and coaches, oblivious to the moment.

While it could be argued that this is either a carryover effect from last season or a confidence the Clippers have found this season, what is indisputable is that the confidence of their coach rubbed off.

“When you see a coach vibrate like that,” winger Terance Mann said, “you start vibrating.”

That the Clippers finally pulled out a 105-102 victory Friday to clinch the tiebreaker in the season series against their arena roommates wasn’t particularly surprising if you know Lue, or the Clippers who share his comfort in otherwise stressful situations. Despite playing largely without their most talented scorers and defensemen this season, the Clippers have become one of the most reliable late-game players in the NBA. Friday’s victory improved their record in the final minute of games where the score is within one possession – three points or less – to 13-8.

The Clippers (31-31) overcame a 100-95 deficit Friday by making 11 of their last 13 shots from the field while the Lakers missed their last six shots. Each has highlighted the teams’ differing efficiencies late in the game this season.

In the final minute of games within three points, the Clippers are shooting 65.5%, including a league-high 64% accuracy, on three-pointers (nine for 14). The Lakers, meanwhile, are shooting 32% overall and 22% from deep under the same circumstances.

Such “clutch” stats can be endlessly handpicked by minutes and points differential — but even in the broadest definition of the NBA’s “clutch,” as games Within five points in the final five minutes, the Clippers stood out as exceptionally efficient. , making 53% of their shots and 50% of their three-point attempts, 37 of their 74.

They more than doubled their assists against turnovers, held opponents to 28% three-point shooting, and ranked among the league leaders in limiting opponents’ points scored on turnovers.

“I attribute that to great training,” Mann said. “[Lue] is there to lock us up. He puts us in a bunch of different situations, whether it’s mentally or really physically on the pitch during training.

Yet while playing a league-high 61 games before the All-Star break, the Clippers barely held formal practices that would allow them to practice situational basketball. How, with often mixed rosters due to injuries, did they manage to develop a sense of comfort?

“Whether we have movie screenings, whether we have a walkthrough, there’s a lot of conversation” Lue leads, Mann said. “‘In this situation we’re going to do this, in this situation we’re going to do that.'”

Only Western Conference leaders Phoenix, Chicago, Memphis and Washington have produced a higher plus-minus rating than the Clippers in the final five minutes of games within five points. These minutes have not been without adventures or errors.

After one of two long official reviews on Friday returned the ball to the Clippers but only less than two seconds to cross half the field, point guard Reggie Jackson couldn’t rush, giving the Lakers, down one point, one chance to take the lead with 18 seconds left.

“While trying to find the right guy who was open, I wasn’t sure I could make the pass and in a split second I thought, ‘Could I cross myself or could I make the pass? “Jackson said. “I think it lost about half a second in our 1.5 [seconds], and then there was no way I could cross. I just have to be better. We talked about it. We drafted it out of time out and it’s on me.

Carmelo Anthony missed a three-pointer with four seconds left on ensuing possession and Robert Covington grabbed one of his three defensive rebounds in the final 1:41. Covington also featured in one of the game’s most debated moments as he squeezed in between a pass from James to Russell Westbrook with 26 seconds left, his volley appearing to hit the out of bounds line. That sparked a lengthy replay review that concluded James was out of bounds before making his pass, a call the NBA confirmed was correct Saturday morning.

Clippers forward Robert Covington tries to score inside against Lakers center Dwight Howard Friday night at Arena.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Endgame clutch play is usually the domain of superstars or rosters affording the luxury of continuity. The Clippers haven’t had either for the past two months, but are back to .500 for the first time since Feb. 3 thanks in part to their late play. Their latest example left them strolling off the field on Friday night, not quite dancing in celebration, but never more comfortable.

“One of the biggest things about this team, especially that Ty Lue points out, is execution,” said forward Amir Coffey, who scored 12 points in the fourth quarter. “…When you get to a game late like this, it’s usually the last two games, or it’s about getting the right read, or running the game right.”



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Update: The Rockets (15-44), who lost to the Clippers by 31 points on Feb. 17, are coming off an eight-point loss to Orlando on Friday, Houston’s eighth straight loss. It was Covington’s experience in Houston two seasons ago as a small-ball center that eased his transition to the Clippers’ smaller rosters over the past three weeks, Mann said.

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