The Clippers were forced to make another change to their starting lineup Monday, promoting rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in place of the injured Avery Bradley. Luckily for LA, what hasn’t changed is the productivity of its bench units, no matter who is playing.
Against Minnesota, with Gilgeous-Alexander in the starting lineup, head coach Doc Rivers turned to fellow rookie Jerome Robinson to fill Shai’s spot among the backups. It was the first time Robinson has played with this particular collection of players, but it didn’t matter. The lineup of Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams, Robinson, Mike Scott, and Montrezl Harrell was plus eight in a pivotal second-quarter run that gave the Clippers a lead they would not relinquish en route to a 120-109 victory.
“There were so many little contributions,” Rivers said postgame. “Mike Scott, I thought was huge. He made a huge three for us, did the same thing in the first half. I thought that group, in the first half, Milos, Jerome, that group opened up a lead for us.”
In particular, Scott’s play was a boost for the second unit. Scott admitted to playing “like booty” during preseason and at the start of the year, but he has seized his opportunity at backup power forward with Luc Mbah a Moute’s injury. He scored more points in a blowout win against his former team, the Wizards, but this was his most impactful game of the season.
Scott was plus-11 in his 17 minutes, the best plus-minus of any Clipper. Offensively, he was efficient, scoring eight points on four shots. His first three gave LA its first points of the second quarter and cut the deficit to one when it looked like the Timberwolves might start breaking away. He had a floater on a broken play that made Tom Thibodeau so irate he called timeout and brought back Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson, and Derrick Rose when play resumed. Scott’s final three came after a little dustup between Rose and Harrell resulted in double technicals, allowing the Clippers to settle down and regain control of the game.
LA had some difficulty on its road trip righting the ship after its opponent made a run, but the team did a better job of keeping its composure at home.
“After all the — whatever that was — we executed the next play out of the timeout,” Rivers said. “I like when we play like that.”
Shooting wasn’t the only area where Scott excelled. He shut down Minnesota’s bench sniper, Anthony Tolliver. Tolliver shoots 42 percent from three but couldn’t even get a shot off from the beyond the arc. Scott also had a couple of quality assists, including a feed to Harrell for a dunk when the Wolves had pulled to within one in the fourth quarter.
The forward’s play is starting to resemble his career year last season in Washington, adding another element to LA’s impressive bench. That depth was also highlighted in a career night for Robinson. While his fellow rookie Gilgeous-Alexander earned his first start, it was also an important outing for Robinson, who played his first meaningful minutes. He also had to start the second quarter with the unenviable task of guarding Jimmy Butler.
Jerome Robinson (@Rome_Coldbucks1) when he learned he had to guard Jimmy Butler during his first important NBA minutes: " Alright, word. Here we go." #Clippers #ClipperNation pic.twitter.com/2oBoQVvp4g— Farbod Esnaashari ✪ (@Farbod_E) November 6, 2018
Even though he was presented with a significant challenge on defense, Robinson did his work on the other end of the floor. The Clippers have been trying to keep him comfortable in his limited minutes, deliberately running plays for him out of timeouts, including some similar to the actions he ran at Boston College. Robinson also had the opportunity to play for the Agua Caliente Clippers Sunday, and he took full advantage of his freedom, taking 21 shots as he scored 28 points.
“That was the biggest thing, you can kind of find your rhythm,” Robinson said about playing in the G League. “When you get thrown in games, it kind of just carries over.”
He continued to shoot with abandon against the Wolves, albeit in smaller role, nailing his first two threes as part of a 20-10 run for LA. The second triple came directly off the catch, with the type of quick release most players in the league, let alone rookies, simply don’t have. Butler started to pick on Robinson when he entered for his second stint in the fourth quarter, leading to a quick sub for Patrick Beverley, but the first-year guard’s impact was apparent.
“He played big in the minutes he did get,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
It’s unclear if Bradley’s injury will persist, or if Robinson will be relegated to the end of the bench once more, but his offensive play suggests that the rookie will be capable of soaking up more minutes when the time comes.
Regardless of who takes the floor for the Clippers, 13 players have now shown the capacity to be part of the rotation, not even including Ty Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell, who played significant minutes last year. It is the biggest strength of this year’s team that Rivers can call so many different numbers and expect solid play.
Scott and Robinson got to shine a little brighter Monday, but on any given day, the bench continues to deliver more and more pleasant surprises.