Paul George’s jumper lifts the Clippers over the Rockets, bringing the team’s skid to an end.
Tyronn Lue eased to his seat, plopped down to do his pregame news conference before Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets and smiled. Before taking any questions, the Clippers coach offered this:
“Starters tonight — Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Paul George, Marcus Morris [Sr.] and [Ivica] Zubac,” Lue said.
There was a quick pause, allowing Lue to answer the question of why he made the change before it was even asked.
“Because I wanted to,” Lue said, laughing.
“I just wanted to do something a little different,” Lue said.
It worked out for Lue and the Clippers because Paul George wouldn’t have it any other way, his fingerprints all over their 95-93 win over the Rockets at Crypto.com Arena.
His 35 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and six steals told just part of the story of George helping the Clippers end a four-game losing streak. He became just the eighth player in NBA history produce those numbers in a game.
“I take full responsibility for us and our record right now,” George said after the Clippers improved to 3-4 this season. “Not getting off to the start, having the starts that we have so far. Regardless, like I’ve been saying, regardless of who is in the lineup, who’s not, I’m more than capable of going out and performing and willing our team to wins. So, I took a lot of … I took a lot on the chin for myself for the way that we’ve been playing and for the starts that we’ve had so far.”
George came up clutch when the Clippers needed him the most, drilling a three-pointer to tie the score at 93 with 39.4 seconds left, stealing the ball from Eric Gordon with 29.3 seconds remaining and then drilling a 15-foot jumper with 6.2 seconds left for the final score.
But the game wasn’t over until Gordon missed a driving layup attempt with Nicolas Batum playing tough defense on the Rockets guard.
George had help from center Zubac, who had 16 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
And twice Zubac and George hooked up in the fourth quarter, with Zubac rolling to the basket and George finding him for a dunk to pull the Clippers to within 90-88 and another time to pull them to within 93-90.
“I know it’s early, but these are the games we have to really lock in on,” George said. “Yeah, again, it’s just about as long as we start building and start playing towards the right way, then you got to live with the results. But definitely losing four, this was one that we should have went out and got.”
Lue was reminded of his postgame comments after Sunday’s loss in which he said if things didn’t change, he might consider doing something different.
So, Lue was asked, did he accelerate this change by starting Kennard for the first time this season in place of Norman Powell, who had started five of the Clippers’ first six games?
“Yessir,” Lue responded.
A four-game losing streak, perhaps, played a part in Lue’s decision. Or maybe it was poor execution or just poor play by his group.
Either way, Lue said the Clippers needed a spark.
But his team was also short-handed again against the Rockets.
Kawhi Leonard didn’t play because of right knee management. He has missed five of the first seven games with knee issues and won’t join the Clippers on their upcoming two-game trip that starts with a return date with the Rockets in Houston on Wednesday night and then a game at San Antonio on Friday night.
That means Leonard will miss seven of the first nine Clippers games.
“He’s frustrated,” Lue said. “He wants to be out on the floor … and then now he can’t travel. He wants to travel, but the doctor said it’s not the right thing to do right now with the stiffness and what he is going through. Just frustrated after putting all the work the last 15 months and to get to this point and not being where he wants to be physically, but he is getting better.”