LOS ANGELES — Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said it would take, in his estimation, six to eight games for their three new players to fully acclimate into the rotation, to understand the offense and their defensive schemes.
But with just 22 games remaining in the regular season, Lue doesn’t have the luxury of a lengthy discourse on Clippers basketball. The newcomers need to be quick learners.
“We don’t have a long time, like you said, only having 23 games left,” Lue said, “so, we got to make sure that we’re trying to incorporate these guys or incorporate different lineups and situations, but also make sure we’re winning games and so that’s the most important thing.”
Newcomers Bones Hyland, Eric Gordon and Mason Plumlee got their first test Tuesday night, each playing significant minutes in a 134-124 victory over the Golden State Warriors that moved the Clippers (32-28) back into fifth place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of Dallas (31-28).
But when it came down to it, it was the regulars who keyed the Clippers’ victory, snapping their two-game losing streak.
Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points on 12-of-17 shooting, including a career-high-tying seven 3-pointers. Norman Powell came off the bench to score 24 points, Paul Goerge had 20 points and eight assists and Terance Mann added 16 points, four rebounds and six assists.
Still, as far as debuts go, Hyland, Plumlee and Gordon each had several highlight moments and a few expected lowlights.
Hyland’s offensive rebound and layup gave the Clippers a 96-89 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter. But Hyland also found himself with three fouls in the first half and picked up two more in the second half, limiting him to 15 minutes.
With his long reach, Plumlee snagged the ball in midair and quickly moved toward the basket before passing it off. He didn’t have any points or rebounds in his first eight minutes but finished with eight points and five rebounds in 17 minutes.
Gordon fared well in his game back in a Clippers uniform after 13 seasons with seven points and three assists in 22 minutes. The new trio combined for just one turnover in their 54 combined minutes.
“I thought they did a great job,” Lue said. “Especially that second unit, just pushing the pace on misses and makes, just getting the ball up the floor quick, attacking early before the defense can get set.
“I thought Mason did a good job of getting the ball out of bounds quick and then when he rebounded the ball, he busted out and then made the early advance pass, which allowed us to get some easy baskets. It was good to see the guys and how they played. I like what I saw tonight.”
George was impressed by how quickly the new trio played after one practice.
“I thought they looked great, looked like they had chemistry,” George said. “I mean, they’re pros. They came in on short notice. Got the plays down, and I just thought they looked good together. They played with great energy. That second unit had some juice to it.”
The Clippers’ victory came against a Warriors (29-29) team that was without injured All-Star Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins (personal reasons), one day after he lit up the Washington Wizards for 29 points.
Even All-Star guard Klay Thompson wasn’t his usual dominant self as he was playing in both games of a back-to-back for the first time this season. He scored 18 points in 28 minutes.
But the Warriors did have Jordan Poole, who led the team with 28 points and six assists, and Draymond Green, who added 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Four other Golden State players posted double figures, including UCLA product Kevon Looney (11 points, 14 rebounds).
The Clippers used a 12-2 run in the first quarter to open a 16-7 lead and kept the Warriors from gaining any momentum to hold a 31-23 advantage after the first quarter. It was a different story in the second.
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Lue had put all three newcomers into the game late in the first quarter and kept them on the floor to start the second. But they provided little resistance as the Warriors began hitting their mark.
At that point, Lue turned the game over to his starters, but by then the Warriors were on their way to a 12-4 run, going 6 for 7 from the field, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range to close the gap to one, 42-41.
The rest of the first half was a back-and-forth contest with the Clippers trailing, 64-59.
The game featured 13 lead changes and seven ties before the Clippers pulled away late in the third period.
The teams traded leads and were tied five times early in the third. The Clippers outscored the Warriors 19-7 over the final minutes to lead 105-93 going into the fourth.
“We got to continue to keep building, add more plays for the new guys,” Lue said. “But, overall I thought we did a good job of just attacking, making the right play. Making the right pass, 33 assists, only eight turnovers. And when we’re playing that style of basketball, we’re tough to beat.”
— NBA (@NBA) February 15, 2023
Norman Powell drives in with authority! pic.twitter.com/GBAqdAM6YQ
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Shooter’s rolls all around on TNT! pic.twitter.com/hsUVcNNMWN
— NBA (@NBA) February 15, 2023