The Clippers finally broke their spell of mediocre play, and that too, in an afternoon game. They demonstrated the good habits that they have been talking about but failing to execute over the last three games — and lo and behold, this team is talented enough to win when they play the right away, as they did 106-93 against the Hawks Sunday.
Amir Coffey led the way with 21 points, tying his career-high, and provided key contests against John Collins and others in the paint. Six other Clippers chipped in double figures in the win. It was a professional victory, as the Clippers took the lead late in the first and never conceded it again, hitting just enough timely shots to keep Atlanta at bay all day.
It looked like the Clippers might be in trouble early offensively when Marcus Morris Sr. picked up his second foul four minutes into the game. To that point, the only sets the Clippers were really running were Morris isos.
But the scoring slack was picked up by Amir Coffey. He made his first five shots, including three 3-pointers for 13 points, as he was forced to play the first 13 minutes of the game with Morris’ foul trouble and Justise Winslow in the health and safety protocols. Ty Lue noted pregame that Coffey’s confidence is way up, allowing the third-year Clipper to be more effective.
“Confident. I think he understands what we’re trying to do,” Lue said. “Confident, taking his shot, attacking the basket, getting out early in transition, attacking the basket and last year he didn’t attack the basket as much as he has this year, just getting downhill, so he’s getting more and more comfortable.”
The other notable change in momentum came at the 5:29 mark, when Eric Bledsoe was subbed in for Reggie Jackson. Lue took Jackson out for giving no effort on a defensive play that allowed Trae Young a clean jumper, and the Clippers’ energy level and cohesion picked up significantly with Bledsoe in the game. He only had four points and two assists in the first half, but he pushed the tempo, moved the ball, and was active on defense — even as the low man on occasion. The Clippers were plus-15 in his 13 first-half minutes.
The first of the two instances came when Reggie Jackson failed to box out on the defensive glass, leading to an Atlanta offensive rebound and a three. The second was Jackson not getting back on defense which led to a Delon Wright layup.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) January 9, 2022
The third quarter brought some unnecessary sloppiness. There were three separate instances early in the period when the Clippers made a careless play on offense and Lue would have called timeout after a Hawks score, but Atlanta had potential buckets rim out. Instead, those misses bought the Clippers just enough time to clean up their offense.
The Clippers had their way in the interior. It was an excellent day for Ivica Zubac, a substantial improvement from Saturday’s showing against Memphis — that one can be explained away either as Zubac’s first game back from covid or a bad hair day. Either way, short-haired Zu was ready to roll against Atlanta. He did a terrific job on the glass and on switches, finishing with 13 rebounds.
His center counterpart Serge Ibaka also had one of this better games in recent memory. Ibaka’s defense has been rough of late, so Lue essentially staggered Ibaka’s minutes with Trae Young (at least for the first three quarters, but then Zubac’s minutes limit presumably kicked in) so that the Clippers big wasn’t forced to defend in pick-and-roll. Ibaka instead got to focus on his offense, where there was more space without Winslow in the game, and responded with 16 points.
The Clippers finally outrebounded an opponent, 52-43, especially important against a transition offense as potent as Atlanta’s. The Hawks only outscored the Clippers 16-10 on the break, a margin that the home team was easily able to make up in the paint.