On Tuesday, Paul George shined in his return to Indiana. On Wednesday, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard got to follow suit in Detroit.
Jackson had a game-high 29 points, besting the previous Clipper high he had set of 28 when the team was similarly shorthanded on the second night of a back-to-back in San Antonio. He made half of his 24 shots, quite the feat on a night when the Clippers shot under 40 percent from the field.
The spot starter did more than just deliver the game-winner; he had multiple big-time plays down the stretch, starting with a 3-pointer with under three minutes left to cut the lead to five. The Pistons were nursing that same lead with a minute remaining when Jackson beat Mason Plumlee to a rebound, and that possession eventually led to a Ivica Zubac putback. And then Jackson rewarded the final two stops of the game with big jumpers and exquisite understanding of time and score in the process.
There was no second option on the last basket. It was Jackson or bust.
“Just bring it up, take the ball full court,” Ty Lue said about the game-winning play call. “Then (at) seven seconds, two wide pins to kind of occupy, and Reggie goes one-on-one in the middle of the floor to get the last shot. And like you said, he did it, did it to a tee, walked him down, got to his spot, and made a big shot.”
Jackson got to be the alpha for the Clippers on a night when they were missing their projected playoff starting lineup — not one or two guys, all five. They put the ball in his hands down the stretch and trusted him to get the job done. It’s not the role he came to Los Angeles expecting to have, but it’s one he can rise into. The Clippers have faith in him to do so.
“For myself, personally, I’m just trusting the work, but more importantly, tonight it was my teammates. They harped on me to continue to go, continue to (focus on) next play, next shot, continue to trust myself and have confidence,” Jackson said postgame. “It was hard for me not to have confidence, the way that they were picking me up, hyping me up throughout the game. We were all on each other, but in that moment, we were confident that we were gonna get a stop, and then once we did, they were confident in myself, letting me know I was gonna make the shot.”
One of the players who had faith that Jackson would come through was Kennard, who has played with Wednesday night’s hero for all but one month of his NBA career. According to Kennard, Jackson just did what Jackson does. Hot sauce.
The night wasn’t as smooth sailing for Kennard in his return to Detroit, but he still managed to impact the game despite his shot not going in. In a game when Kennard shot 5-of-17 from the field, he dropped 17 points thanks to earning seven trips to the foul line when his previous Clipper high was three free-throw attempts. He also added 10 rebounds, besting his season high of seven.
More than anything, someone had to handle the rock with so many perimeter players absent. Kennard did that for more than 38 minutes, his three turnovers a small price to pay for letting Jackson function as a scorer off the ball. Those two were the only starters with a positive plus-minus as they combined with the bench unit for the finishing push.
Lue was clear that everyone had to part to play in the victory, but the result did resonate a little extra with the two former Pistons. Jackson said his five-and-a-half years in Detroit shaped who he is as a person on and off the court, adding, “I will forever have Piston blood running through my veins and forever thankful and forever gratitude for what this organization and city has done for me.”
Kennard echoed how much Detroit means to him, which is why the final outcome was even more sweet.
“It was weird being back, you know, just seeing everybody and being back in this arena, you know, obviously it was my first city playing. They drafted me. They made my dream come true of playing in the NBA, so I’m very thankful for that,” Kennard said. “Always exciting to get back here, see some familiar faces, but it definitely feels good to beat them. It does, it does. No back and forth between us, but you know it definitely feels good to come out with a win.”
It was a win that didn’t seem entirely possible when the Clippers were down 11 with less than five minutes to play. But Jackson and Kennard knew what they had to do to change their fortunes. With the support of their new teammates, they found an extra burst in a place that will be always be extra special.