Moments after the Clippers’ 115-90 victory Sunday in Charlotte, Jaime Maggio, Bally Sports’ sideline reporter, put a microphone in front of Justise Winslow and asked him about the team’s impressive defensive effort.
It was a matter of communication, Winslow told a live TV audience, explaining further: “Especially that second unit, we just (expletive) with each other.”
It was a colorful way to say that, since they’ve been gone, the Clippers’ second unit has been second to none.
Through the first seven games of the eight-game road trip that ends Monday in Indianapolis, the Clippers’ reserves have outscored their opponents by an average 7.9 points per game, or by 55 points – more than any other bench in the NBA over the course of the past seven contests.
In that span, L.A.’s contingent of Winslow, Luke Kennard, Isaiah Hartenstein, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Boston Jr. and Jay Scrubb – who outscored Charlotte’s bench 62-21 on Sunday – have averaged 52.0 points per game, also a league-high.
It’s a result, Winslow said a few minutes later, on Zoom, of the fact that they all really like one another.
“I think we just got a real connection, you know what I mean?” said Winslow, the ruggedly versatile wing in his seventh NBA season. “We all like each other, we get along, and I think that’s really starting to really carry over onto the court.
“Bled (Eric Bledsoe) tends to be a more quiet guy, Brandon (Brandon Boston Jr.) is a rookie, so just trying to encourage Brandon to talk more and Bled is starting to come out of his shell a little bit and he’s talking more as well.
“But I just think we’re connected out there on the floor. We’re talking, somebody messes up a teammate is there to pick him up, so I think the connection in that second unit is what’s helping us be successful right now.”
The long, 13-day road trip, Winslow said, has served to strengthen that connection for the Clippers who come off the bench – both at work and away from it.
“We’ve done dinners, we’ve been in different cities, hanging out in the hotel, chilling, watching games,” said Winslow, a first-year Clipper who was a member of Duke’s 2015 NCAA championship team.
“That stuff matters. The off-the-court stuff, the chemistry. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some really good teams, some championships teams and I think that goes a long way when you’ve got a true connection and bond with your teammates. So on the court, off the court, just trying to continue that with my guys, continue to bring us together, so we can flourish while we’re out there.”
Coach Tyronn Lue said it’s clear how comfortable the reserves are – and that’s remarkable because some of them are reserves for reserves, with Terance Mann and Amir Coffey called into starting duty because of the absences of injured stars Kawhi Leonard Paul George and others.
“The chemistry starts with Luke and Isaiah,” Lue said. “With (Terance Mann) starting right now, he’s not really in that group anymore, so Justise is filling in for him and Bled as well. They got a really good combination. Just their energy, their flow, they got a good rhythm together. It’s been good to see.”
Marcus Morris Sr. scored 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting Sunday in his first game back after missing three while he spent a few days away, mourning the death of a close friend.
“I needed some time to myself and my family, and Clippers did a great job just allowing me to clear my head, get away a little bit,” Morris said. “It really helped me.”
He said he kept tabs on his teammates while he was away and that, even as he recognized their resolve, he was impressed by it as they battled back to win after trailing by 35 points and then again after being down 14.
“I watched every game, I was tuned in,” Morris said. “The resilience of this team, it’s been on display all season. Definitely, that 35-point comeback was probably one of the better games I’ve ever watched. I texted T-Lue that: ‘I’ve never seen nothing like that.’ It just goes with the fight we’ve been putting up all year. Young guys coming to play and never letting down.”
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