Shorthanded Clippers erase double-digit deficit but fall to Jazz

Over the course of two days this week, the Clippers’ future spilled over into the team’s present as an injury-plagued team in search of wins now turned to their long-term projects.

Just as rookie forward Moussa Diabate and sophomore Jason Preston played a G-League game Monday in California before flying to Portland the next day in time for a comeback win over the Trail Blazers, so did winger Brandon Boston Jr. sophomore to Utah as backup.

Their arrival prompted a general consensus: the children are fine.

A night after Diabate’s boundless energy changed the tenor of a dismal start in Portland as part of an 18-point comeback by the Clippers, Diabate and Boston Jr. were used late Wednesday in the fourth quarter as the Clippers needed the semblance of energy, while trailing 90-76 to a Jazz team that had lost four straight games. Less than four minutes later, Boston had scored a three, Diabate had turned an offensive rebound into a put-back layup while being fouled, and the Jazz lead had shrunk to just three.

That their plans to rally from there quickly unraveled, eventually ending in a 125-112 loss to drop to 13-10 was just one way to judge the night.

With injured Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Luke Kennard “back soon,” coach Tyronn Lue has hinted – perhaps as soon as Saturday – the Clippers could soon resemble the team they envisioned during a healthy preseason, a team for almost every minute is reserved for decades-old veterans and established younger players. Because of that, the minutes suddenly offered up for Diabate, Preston and Boston Jr. during a two-game road trip with otherwise little excitement offered a glimpse of the overall potential the Clippers have been working on over the past six weeks to to expand it. since training camp closed and the recent Clippers have largely left to seek more play repeaters at the team’s Ontario G League affiliate.

Diabate scored 11 points with eight rebounds off the bench against the Jazz in a career-high 16 minutes while Boston had 10 in 22 minutes. With backup guard John Wall available after missing Tuesday’s first night of a back-to-back game, Preston’s assignment as an additional ball handler was not needed until the game was out of reach. he played four minutes.

Ever since the Clippers added a G League affiliate in Ontario in 2017, the franchise has followed a two-pronged player development philosophy – trying to win now with its NBA roster while using the G League to hone the skills of its least experienced players to build the straight for down by running almost exactly the same offense and defense as the Clippers. It wasn’t a given that the work done on the first track would be featured on the NBA’s main stage this season, because the Clippers’ roster was one of the most veteran-laden in the league and their rotation was one of the most jam-packed — inhibiting opportunities for the young Clippers , until a wave of injuries changed the circumstances. Norman Powell did not play against Utah after suffering a late groin injury against the Trail Blazers.

“It’s tough because we have an experienced team and these guys did a great job in the G League by playing really well and doing everything right,” said Lue. “Sometimes you have to reward the youngsters for playing well, to let them know that we see what you’re doing and we recognize that you’re playing in the G League but doing some good things. To have the opportunity to play these guys last night was really good.”

Aside from having to quickly learn a few new plays Tuesday afternoon to tackle Portland’s zone defense, Preston and Diabate said they were perfectly comfortable in their roles as they managed the Clippers’ playbook with Ontario, where Diabate averaged Had 18 points on 62% shooting with 10 rebounds in his first 10 G-League games. Preston, essentially a rookie after missing all of last season with a foot injury, had averaged 12 points and nearly seven assists. Prior to Wednesday, Boston had not played since an opponent’s knee rammed his thigh on Nov. 12.

Diabate had played all six NBA minutes before playing all 12 of Tuesday’s fourth quarter in Portland, with Lue in the final few minutes for games like his stop of a Justise with the bouncy 6-foot-9 Frenchman over starting center Ivica Zubac Winslow drives into the paint before recovering to the rim, forcing Trendon Watford to see-saw his dribbling, resulting in a steal.

“His length, his athleticism, it seems like he has pretty quick instincts on that end of the floor and can be quite disruptive,” said jazz coach Will Hardy. “I think he showed the ability to really change a game last night.”

The Clippers surpassed Portland by 19 points in Diabate’s nearly 13 minutes of total playing time, and after that, Diabate didn’t look at all like a dazed guy who woke up at 6 a.m. in California to board a northbound flight alongside Preston, the 19-year-old taking advice-a-tat conversations with teammates that could be heard at full volume in the dressing room.

Preston scored three points in six minutes against Portland and “came in and played really steady, controlled the tempo, made a big three, made some good passes,” Lue said. The team considered Preston the second-best passer in the 2021 draft, but the coaches worked with him to understand that passing paths will open up even more when the 6-4 embraces Preston, using his frame to first after to seek his own shot.

“A lot of times he tries to pass even before he’s looked at the rim and so we told him you have to be aggressive and you have to score first and that will open up his passing game,” said Lue. Shorthanded Clippers erase double-digit deficit but fall to Jazz

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