This past week, the Los Angeles Clippers went into two important match-ups against the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers looking to hold precious ground in the playoff race. Just behind the eighth-place Clippers in the Western Conference were the Kings and Lakers in ninth and tenth place, respectively. With both games on their home court, the Clippers were able to hold their ground for the win against the Kings but had the misfortune of playing against the Lakers when LeBron James had just returned from injury.
Throughout this season, the Clippers have gotten significant contributions from rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Confident enough in the team’s chances against the Kings, Doc Rivers allowed two additional young players rotation minutes in the game, which the Clippers never put out of reach until the end. Rookie shooting guard Jerome Robinson and second-year power forward Jonathan Motley both contributed after having spent time in the G-League this season. Unfortunately for Motley, he has only logged a single minute in three games after playing against the Kings. However, Robinson has how now played nine games straight after not playing for the Clippers since mid-November.
Robinson had a few highlight moments in the overtime loss to the Lakers. At one point he pulled off a nifty lay-up under the basket and blocked Rajon Rondo on back-to-back possessions. Later in the fourth quarter, he was able to hit a wide-open three-point shot to help keep the Clippers in the game. Robinson even had the gumption to attempt a step back three-pointer while being guarded directly by James (he missed). Head Coach Doc Rivers spoke about Robinson’s contributions in the Lakers game.
“He was great. Great. Aggressive, which is what we told him to be. Look for your shot. That’s what you do. I thought he was a little overzealous at one time when he decided to iso on Lebron. But I actually liked the confidence overall. If I could take either one, I’d rather for him to be on that side of the confidence than the other side. So, I actually liked it,” Rivers said.
On the player side, Gilgeous-Alexander talked about how he was glad he wasn’t the only rookie in this position.
“It’s good to see him out there. Especially on the road trips. I’ve been the only rookie on the road trips doing rookie duties,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It’s good to have Jerome [Robinson] back. He’s been battling a couple of injuries. It’s good to have him back. He spaces the floor for us. It’s fun and easy to play him.”
When asked if there was a concerted effort to give the young players a chance to play and develop despite the possibility that doing so might hurt the team’s best chances to win, Rivers made clear that the only goal is to win.
“No, just trying to win. They’ve earned their minutes. Everyone gets a shot. We’ve given everyone a shot and this is their turn. I think they’ve earned it. But everybody’s ready,” Rivers said after the Kings win. “That’s the type of team we have.”
Rivers has given just about everyone on the roster a chance to play this season. For example, after not playing significant minutes since late December, center Boban Marjanovic has now made his way back into the rotation. Marjanovic was able to rejoin after playing a key role down the stretch against the Lakers when bench star Montrezl Harrell was taken out due to foul trouble. Marjanovic continued his strong play in a comeback win on the road against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.
Gilgeous-Alexander also appears to be regaining his confidence and comfort after going through somewhat of a midseason slump. Rivers talked about his star rookie, who has played in every game this season, and what that means compared to college.
“This is a hard league,” Rivers said after the Kings game. “Was that our fiftieth game? That’s probably sixteen, fifteen more than his [Gilgeous-Alexander] college season from last year. And he still has thirty-two games left … It’s hard. The players are just a tad bit better than what he played at Kentucky every night. When you add that all into one, it’s really difficult.”
Gilgeous-Alexander was recently named to the Rising Stars game in the upcoming All-Star weekend. The recognition is welcomed, but Gilgeous-Alexander confirmed the difficulties of being a rookie playing every game who is expected to contribute at a high level.
“It’s definitely a challenge. It’s a lot easier to be ready when you have a week to prepare for everybody. But when you have back-to-backs in weeks and games every other day, it’s hard, I guess you could say, to prepare and be ready and locked in for each opponent,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s one of the challenges of the rookie season.”
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