Tyronne Lue eased to his seat, plopped down to do his pregame news conference before Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets and smiled. Before taking any questions, the Clippers coach offered this:
“Starters tonight — Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Paul George, Marcus Morris [Sr.] and [Ivica] Zubac,” Lue said.
There was a quick pause, allowing Lue to answer the question of why he made the change before it was even asked.
“Because I wanted to,” Lue said, laughing.
“I just wanted to do something a little different,” Lue said.
It worked out for Lue and the Clippers because Paul George wouldn’t have it any other way, his fingerprints all over their 95-93 win over the Rockets.
His 35 points, nine rebounds and eight assists told just part of the story.
George came up clutch when the Clippers needed him the most, drilling a three-pointer to tie the score 93-93 with 39.4 seconds left, stealing the ball from Eric Gordon with 29.3 seconds left and then drilling a 15-foot jumper with 6.2 seconds left for the final score.
But the game wasn’t over until Gordon missed a driving layup with Nic Batum playing tough defense on the Rockets guard.
Lue was reminded of his postgame comments after Sunday’s loss in which he said if things didn’t change, he might consider doing something different.
So, Lue was asked, did he accelerate this change by starting Kennard for the first time this season in place of Norman Powell, who had started five of the Clippers first six games?
“Yessir,” Lue responded.
A four-game losing streak, perhaps, played a part in Lue’s decision. Or maybe it was poor execution, or just poor play by his group.
Either way, Lue said the Clippers needed a spark.
But his team was also short-handed yet again for the game against the Rockets at Crypto.com Arena.
Kawhi Leonard didn’t play because of right knee management. He has now missed five of the first seven games with knee issues and won’t join the Clippers on their upcoming two-game trip that starts with a return date with the Rockets in Houston on Wednesday and then at San Antonio on Friday.
That means Leonard will miss seven of the first nine Clippers games.
“He’s frustrated. He’s frustrated,” Lue said. He wants to be out on the floor and then not being on the floor, and then now he can’t travel. He wants to travel, but the doctor said it’s not the right thing to do right now with the stiffness and what he is going through. Just frustrated after putting all the work the last 15 months and to get to this point and not being where he wants to be physically, but he is getting better and that is the most important thing.”
The Clippers also didn’t have John Wall (left knee management) and Robert Covington (health and safety protocols) for the game against the Rockets.
So, this is what the Clippers have been up against in the early part of the season, not being whole and having to figure out ways to win games in the process.
“It’s not something you want to get used to, but we’ve been having to do it as of late,” Lue said. “But I think it’s a little different because when you build a system around PG and Kawhi, and then now with Kawhi being out. … Like last year, we knew that, ‘OK, they’re not going to be here, so we got to change our foundation, how we played offensively and just change the whole structure.’ But now, just with the circumstances of Kawhi, it’s a little different. So, it’s no excuse. Every team goes through it. We just happened to be one of the teams that happens to through it all the time. … We just got to be better.”
And there is a lot the Clippers need to get better at doing.
They entered the game ranked 30th in the NBA in scoring (105.3) and 30th in turnovers (16.7). They were 29th in offensive rating (101.3), 27th in three-point shooting (31.5%), 27th in assists (20.7) and 19th in field-goal percentage (46.4%)
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.