When Los Angeles Clippers guard Luke Kennard checked in midway through the third quarter of Monday’s game versus the Atlanta Hawks, some viewers may have decided it was a good time to channel surf.
Not only was Kennard accompanied by a full complement of Clippers bench mates, but the team trailed by 21 to a Hawks team that had won eight straight and showed no signs of relinquishing their dominance.
And while Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue may have in fact been waving the white flag, Kennard and his fellow reserves were clearly not in on the strategy. Instead, they spearheaded a fierce comeback, eventually resulting in a 119-110 victory and giving the Clippers back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-February.
In just 19 minutes, Kennard scored 20 points on a perfect 8-for-8 from the field, pulled down seven rebounds and dished out four assists. If those numbers aren’t videogame-esque enough for you, his offensive rating of 247 was by far a game-high, and his four triples even included a half-court, Euro step bank-shot at the end of the third quarter.
Not bad for a guy who had long since fallen out of Lue’s rotation.
Much like the Clippers themselves, who started 21-8 but have dropped six of their last nine, the season has been one of ups and downs for Kennard.
After arriving in a trade from Detroit last November, Kennard signed a substantial 4-year $64 million extension with Los Angeles in December and was projected to play significant minutes off the bench this season. And for a while, he did — averaging eight points in 22 minutes a game through the Clippers’ first 29 matchups.
But shaky defense and the gradual return from injury of L.A’s two biggest stars — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — moved Kennard to the back of Lue’s bench, resulting in six DNPs over the last month and only garbage time in many instances. That is until Monday night.
Asked by reporters after the game whether he thought his performance against Atlanta should or would garner him a greater role, especially given the Clippers’ recent slump, the 6-foot-5 Kennard took the high road.
“For me, it’s not trying to fight somebody for minutes or anything like that,” said Kennard. “It’s just staying ready. We have a good team, a deep team, guys that can play and we have a lot of different combinations that we can use. I trust our coaching staff, I trust what we’re doing, I trust our entire team.”
Lue, for his part, was noncommital when it came to how Kennard’s performance would impact his future minutes.
“He’s definitely earned something,” said Lue after the game.
Sometimes It Takes a Bench
While Kennard’s performance against the Hawks may have been the most box score-friendly of all the Clippers, it certainly wasn’t the only one that stood out.
Terance Mann, the second-year guard out of Florida State, was Robin to Kennard’s Batman, if not the other way around. Mann, who is slowly but surely opening eyes around the league, poured in 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting (17 in the second half) and snatched 10 rebounds.
Just as important as his play on offense, Mann’s aggressiveness and length on the double-team helped slow down Hawks superstar point guard Trae Young, who scored just eight points in the final 24 minutes after dropping 20 in the first half.
“T-Mann, he got us going, too,” said Kennard.
Kennard also felt that forward Nicolas Batum was deserving of praise, despite not stuffing the stat sheet. After beginning the season as a starter, the 12-year veteran was recently moved to the bench, but that has not stopped him from providing intangibles to the second team.
“Nick’s presence is huge,” said Kennard. “Me and T-Mann, obviously we were getting most of the shots, but just [Batum]’s presence, the way he kind of controlled what we were doing offensively and defensively, getting into huddles, talking to us in timeouts — he was our leader during that time. Even though it might not show on the stat sheet, Nick Batum was our leader during that stretch. It shows a lot about who Nick is, his character, the type of teammate he is [and] what he brings to this team.”
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