Montrezl Harrell hadn’t been playing his best to start the season, only earning 29 minutes in the first two games, while seeing Boban Marjanovic outshine him at backup center.
Against the Houston Rockets, for one night at least, Harrell got a chance to showcase what he provides to the Clippers that no one else can. The fourth-year big had his best night of the young season, scoring 17 points and adding 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 assists in 24 minutes of action as LA won its second game.
“Trez is a good player. He’s going to be good for us. He plays with great energy. He attacks the offensive glass, which he did tonight,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “He got it going. You knew it was coming. I couldn’t have told you when, but we trust him. We really trust all our guys.”
The Rockets play one of the smaller lineups in the league, deploying 6-foot-6 PJ Tucker as their backup center and forcing other teams to adjust to their pace. Fortunately for the Clippers, Harrell’s athleticism and energy were the perfect antidote to Houston’s scheme.
Even with the stingiest of perimeter defenders, and the LA stable of guards (Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) did their best, the Rockets still manage to get into the paint at a high frequency, which requires strong rim protection from the back line of defense. Harrell was strong enough to contest the Houston players at the rim while also being quick enough to switch out on the perimeter. That defensive versatility is unique on the Clippers roster.
Harrell also had one steal, which came at a particularly deflating moment for the Rockets. With 1.2 seconds left in the third quarter, he intercepted a backcourt pass and finished a lay-up and one to tack three more points on the LA lead.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Harrell said postgame. “We paid attention to what we needed to do on the defensive end of the floor, it came down to 1-2 plays, but we executed the play call all the way down to a tee, came up with big-time stops when we needed to.”
Harrell also found his rhythm on the offensive end Sunday. He had been unable to convert efficiently in the paint thus far, shooting 2-for-9 in the first two games. But he got back down to basics and went for straight power against the Rockets, dunking the ball four times for half of his eight baskets.
The Clippers backcourt did well to drive and dump the ball to Harrell when the defense rotated, but the center was a beast on the offensive boards as well, cleaning up his teammates’ misses for two ferocious dunks. When he had to finish through contact, Harrell was able to knock down his foul shots, a welcome sight for a career 62 percent free-throw shooter.
“I kind of erased everything and just let it go, got back to the things that I do well,” Harrell said. “I went in yesterday on the off day and got a real hard workout in with the player development coaches, just getting back to all the things I do well. Offensively, around the rim, I stopped looking for the foul calls, go play through the contact, and just have fun playing.”
The Clippers received contributions from up and down the roster in yesterday’s win, but perhaps none were as welcome as Harrell’s first good game of the 2018-19 season. In a league that demands more and more skill from every position, he has the versatility to stay on the court in almost any lineup. His energy and activity will go a long way in impacting the team’s success as the season goes on.