October 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Clippers shake off cold start to beat Timberwolves

Walking onto the court for his first opening tip in 16 days, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley tapped knuckles with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns on Wednesday, took the game ball from an official and quickly planted a kiss on its leather.

For eight games, the Clippers had missed their voluble, intense starting guard, and he had felt a similar longing back. The day’s least surprising moment was hearing coach Tyronn Lue describe Beverley’s pregame mood as “super fired up.”

It took two quarters, but his team finally matched that energy.

On their way to a six-point halftime hole against a Minnesota team owning the Western Conference’s worst record, the Clippers appeared as though they were still de-icing from the negative temperatures outside Target Center’s doors — outhustled to rebounds, beaten to their spots on defense and playing at a glacial offensive pace.

Yet by the end, after his team outscored Minnesota by 13 in the third quarter, and played a small-ball lineup to protect its lead during a critical fourth quarter, there was Beverley jumping on the shoulders of teammate Lou Williams during a postgame television interview moments after a 119-112 victory, yelling in celebration as the Clippers began their two-game trip by ending a two-game losing streak.

Beverley scored six points, with three rebounds and four fouls, in his 18 minutes, and he keyed a notable swing with 6 minutes 58 seconds to play in the fourth quarter when his block of Jarred Vanderbilt’s layup attempt quickly led to a dunk by Kawhi Leonard at the other end for a nine-point Clippers lead.

Without Paul George, the Clippers’ offense was carried by Williams’ season-high 27 points off the bench and 36 from Leonard, who also added eight rebounds and five assists.

After shooting 38% in the first half and allowing 10 offensive rebounds to fall behind by as many as 13 points, the Clippers’ turning point was their third quarter, ripping off a 16-2 run at one point with key baskets in transition.

Reggie Jackson scored a layup off an empty Minnesota possession, followed by two free throws on another runout right after. Then Terance Mann, again flashing the kind of smart plays and hustle that have made the second-year guard an important piece off the bench in recent days, lobbed a dunk for Leonard.

Since leaving at halftime during a Jan. 24 victory because of a sore right knee, Beverley and his 41% three-point shooting and active one-on-one defense had missed eight consecutive games. His return was greenlighted greenlit after four days of workouts after which Beverley showed “no soreness, no pain in his knee,” Lue said before tipoff.

“He responded well, so that was our chance to say, OK, we can give it a go,” Lue said.

Gauging the void left by one player in a five-man lineup is an imperfect science, but it was perhaps not coincidental that during his absence the Clippers had allowed eight points per 100 possessions more than they had allowed during the two weeks preceding his injury, a stretch when the unit had finally settled into a groove.

The Clippers (18-8) have won their last seven games with Beverley in the lineup.

“We miss his defense, being able to guard the basketball, being able to guard pick and roll, which we struggled in the last few games,” Lue said.

Beverley gave forward Nicolas Batum “a little rest from having to guard the best player every night,” Lue added. “Just having Pat back is a lot of energy for us.”

Like the Clippers, who were still without George for a third consecutive game as he recovers from an injured right foot, the Timberwolves played without one starter, D’Angelo Russell, while getting back another from a long wait. Towns was playing in only his fifth game of the season, three weeks after being sidelined by COVID-19.

It was a troubling diagnosis: His father and mother had both battled COVID, with his mother dying in April from it. Clippers center Serge Ibaka spoke with Towns for an extended amount of time before tipoff.

Towns finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Naz Reid’s 12 fourth-quarter points kept Minnesota (6-19) within four points with less than eight minutes remaining.