The cardiac Clippers resurfaced Monday night, falling behind 15 points to the Atlanta Hawks (now 3-14) before turning up the effort to earn their fifth consecutive win and second straight on the road. The Hawks, like the Nets before them without Caris LeVert, lack the talent and experience to be competitive with LA for 48 minutes, even on their home court. Nevertheless, it takes a certain amount of fortitude to overcome a road deficit, and any time the Clippers outscore their opponent 20-5 over the course of five minutes, it deserves a closer look.
Much as it has throughout the season, the Clippers bench came through when the team needed a jolt. LA has arguably the deepest team in the league; even without Danilo Gallinari, Luc Mbah a Moute, and a still-gimpy Avery Bradley returning from injury on a minutes limit, the Clippers were able to trot out a five-man bench lineup that turned the tide of the game.
Atlanta led LA 91-77 with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter when the Clippers called a timeout and brought in Boban Marjanovic for the first time in the five games. Boban joined Montrezl Harrell, Mike Scott, Lou Williams, and Milos Teodosic, also seeing his first action in five games. LA proceeded to outscore the Hawks by 15 in the next five minutes, taking their first lead of the second half at 97-96 with 9:27 to play. The game was certainly not decided at that point, but the reserve unit did its job to put the Clippers back in contact.
A surprising element of the bench unit was the pairing of Boban and Harrell. The combo had only played 12 minutes together this season to disastrous effect (the duo had a net rating of negative-39.4), given that both function primarily as centers. However, the Clippers had gone small in the starting lineup with three guards, and Tobias Harris’ fourth foul almost forced Doc’s hand into going big.
The advantage of going small is generally to space the offense, but Mike Scott is a better shooter than any guard the Clippers could have played in his stead. It made more sense to play Scott on the wing and allow Williams and Boban room to work in the paint. Harrell, who is usually Williams’ pick-and-roll partner, did a nice job of helping the spacing by staying out of the lane on initial actions while still attacking the offensive glass. There also wasn’t really a defensive sacrifice because Scott and Harrell were more than capable of handling DeAndre’ Bembry, Taurean Prince, and John Collins. Harrell was also excellent defending in transition, with one decisive block of Kevin Huerter on the break.
Going big also helped because LA was getting outrebounded, and a little extra size helped reverse that trend. In this stint, the Clippers grabbed nine rebounds to three for the Hawks, though they did commit one loose ball foul that gave Atlanta an extra possession. Cleaning the defensive glass was critical to cutting the lead, particularly because the bigs weren’t getting the rebounds themselves — they were boxing out and allowing Williams to grab and go. It’s worth noting that LA was a little lucky on defense, as the Hawks missed a few wide open looks from three.
On offense, the tandem of Williams and Teodosic got back to basics. They drew switches on the perimeter and dumped the ball into Boban and Trez in the post, where the Clipper bigs feasted on smaller defenders and sank their foul shots when necessary. Harrell hit a career-high 15 free throws on 18 attempts. Williams was also effective at lobbing the ball to Boban, a tactic which may literally be unguardable.
The Clippers went back to a more conventional lineup to close the game, bringing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Harris back in for Milos and Boban. Their play, along with Mike Scott’s sweet shooting and Lou’s facilitating, delivered the win. But it’s worth highlighting the contributions of the Serbian duo and the rest of the bench mob. It takes 48 minutes to earn a victory, and the five minutes spanning the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth put the Clippers in position to take control late. LA has a wealth of rotation players it can call upon; against Atlanta, an unexpected big lineup was the key.