Clippers coach Tyronn Lue returned Monday to the city he once toured amid a championship parade wanting a win, not a tribute video of past memories. He got the latter, not the former.
Since his firing in 2018, a fall day when Lue and his friends holed up at a lakeshore house and processed the news, he had never been fully feted for his role coaching the 2016 NBA champions, because his returns had come as an assistant and, last year, in front of a pandemic-restricted crowd. His potential reception from him Monday, finally, in front of a nearly full Rocket Mortgage Field House had not been on his mind, Lue said before tipoff. Most likely he was consumed with how exactly the Clippers would score with two starters resting on the second night of back-to-back games.
But when his moment arrived between the first and second quarters and the Cavaliers played a long video extolling the championship team, the coach didn’t ignore it. Lue waved when the jumbotron showed his face before Cavaliers forward Kevin Love wrapped him in a hug.
Then it was back to business, the coach doing again what prompted such warm cheers from Cavaliers fans — using any means necessary to try to manufacture a win.
Despite forward Marcus Morris Sr. and point guard Reggie Jackson resting one night after combining for 46 points in Detroit, and Robert Covington missing his fifth consecutive game because of personal reasons, the Clippers trailed just one with 2:26 left in overtime after a three -pointer by Nicolas Batum, only for the fatigue to set in and the floor to fall out from beneath them in a 120-111 loss to end this three-game road trip.
With only nine available players, and Monday marking the end of five games in seven days — the league-high fifth time they’ve played such a stretch this season, the Clippers made half of their shots before halftime, including eight of their 16 three -pointers, just one day after missing their first 11 in Detroit. They assisted on 16 of their first 17 baskets, the kind of ball movement the Clippers have pleaded for on nights when their offense has gone stagnant. They finished with 29 assists on 43 baskets.
Lue played a rare pairing of centers Ivica Zubac, who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds, and Isaiah Hartenstein. He put the ball in the hands of Semi Ojeleye, the rarely used February addition and watched as Amir Coffey’s slump-busting performance of 19 points offset Terance Mann’s cold shooting start, as he went seven for 21 and 18 points.
Zubac, after playing 36 minutes Friday in Atlanta and 30 in Detroit on Sunday, played 36 minutes and looked gassed in the final minutes, only to keep the Clippers close by assisting on Batum’s three-pointer to bring the Clippers within one. He soon fouled out.
Outscored by seven in the third quarter to trail by six entering the fourth, the Clippers (36-35) were down seven with 7:30 remaining when Lue signaled again that he wasn’t going to give up on the game, returning Luke Kennard and Zubac into the lineup. With three minutes to play, Mann shrugged off his five-of-16 shooting to make his first three-pointer for a 100-all tie. With 1:44 to play, the ball swung to him again deep behind the line and Mann made another three-pointer for a 103-all tie.
Given a chance to take the lead when Cavaliers rookie, and former USC star, Evan Mobley bobbled a pass with less than a second remaining and Cleveland leading by one, the Clippers shot their first free throws of the fourth quarter with 30 seconds left, with Coffey making one for a 106-all tie. After missed shots by Darius Garland and Coffey, overtime arrived.
What began as a showcase of rim protection, with Mobley blocking Zubac, Zubac blocking Mobley and Batum soaring to tip away a pass near the basket in transition ended with shot-making. Garland and Lauri Markkanen, delivered three-pointers from each wing to push the Cavaliers’ lead to seven with 54 seconds left as reserve guard Brandon Goodwin strummed an imaginary guitar.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism