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The possession ended Tuesday night inside Staples Center with Ivica Zubac hammering a dunk with his right hand over the outstretched arm of Washington’s Davis Bertans — a highlight that was quickly cut into videos and spread across social media.
Technically, the dunk began as soon as Zubac caught a loose ball just outside the free-throw line and began rumbling toward the rim with malicious intentions. Its true origin came two weeks ago, during the team’s film review on Feb. 11 of its win the previous night in Minnesota, when Zubac’s shot was blocked repeatedly from behind by the Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue decided to splice in a video clip from more than two decades earlier as motivation for his young center.
“We were watching film and all of a sudden, this video — low-quality video — from someone dunking showed up and it was Ty Lue playing his college game,” Zubac said Tuesday, after a 135-116 win. “And he was like, ‘That’s how you finish.’ Ever since then, he’s been on me about finishing, being aggressive, dunking the ball every time I can.”
It was why, after his flush on Bertans, he made a direct line to Lue.
“Every time I get a dunk over someone, next to someone, I come up to him and ask him if that was good enough,” Zubac said. “And I think it was pretty good tonight.”
Five takeaways from a win that moves the Clippers (23-10) into sole possession of second place in the Western Conference:
1.Lue called Paul George and Kawhi Leonard “rusty” Friday after their first game back from injuries, and George didn’t dispute the characterization, particularly how he seemed a beat out of sync with his ball-handling and passing after missing seven games. The rust has quickly disappeared.
Since scoring 15 points with six turnovers in Friday’s win against Utah, George in his last two games has combined to score 64 points, make 23 of his 36 shots, including 10 of his 16 three-pointers, with 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Leonard scored 29 points in his return Friday after missing three games with a contusion on his left leg. In his last two, he’s combined for 62 points, making 22 of his 39 shots and eight of his 16 three-pointers, while grabbing 20 rebounds.
2. In their last three games, the Clippers have ended Utah’s nine-game winning streak and Washington’s five-game streak. Each time, they were able to take away one of their opponent’s key strengths. Against Utah, it was finding a way to hold center Rudy Gobert, who had averaged nearly 16 points and six free throws per night during his team’s nine-game run, to eight points and zero free throws.
Against Washington, which over its last five games had led the league in free throws attempted (32.6), ranked second in total rebounds (49.8) and fourth in second-chance points (16.0), the Clippers held the Wizards to 16 free throws, just 36 rebounds and two second-chance points Tuesday.
3. Lou Williams didn’t play, the official reason given as healthy rest, which opened the door for reserve guard Luke Kennard to play for the first time in three games since returning from a sore right knee. He finished with 11 minutes, showing more of the aggression that teammates want from him offensively than the hesitancy that caused his role to shrink, but the play of Terance Mann again cemented why he has leapfrogged Kennard in the rotation.
Mann harried Washington’s star backcourt during his 20 minutes, made both of his three-pointers — significant considering his streakiness behind the arc — and finished with 12 points and four rebounds. Mann earned minutes earlier this season with his energy, but has gained a foothold because of his skill development in other areas.
“He’s just making winning plays,” Zubac said. “He’s just doing everything right and I love, we love the way he plays and what he brings to the team.”
4. At its best Tuesday, the Clippers’ offense made it look easy while generating points inside (56 in the paint) and out (19 three-pointers on 50% shooting). Lost in the way they closed out Washington with a 29-18 run over the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter were two moments when Nicolas Batum’s effort helped generate extra opportunities and points from them.
Leading 80-65 with 9 minutes 48 seconds left in the third quarter, Batum poked a defensive rebound out of Russell Westbrook’s grip from behind and fed a bounce pass to Patrick Beverley for a layup.
Two possessions later, Batum was the only Clipper to crash the glass and drew a foul from Rui Hachimura, who was in position to grab an unimpeded rebound until Batum ran in. Given the ball back, the Clippers worked the ball to Beverley for a three-pointer and 18-point lead.
5. It wasn’t confirmed whether George was again playing under a minutes restriction, but the Clippers managed him in such a way that it appeared that he was, and that Lue was guarding against a repeat of Sunday, when George’s minutes restriction led to his removal from the loss to Brooklyn with three minutes remaining even though it was his fourth-quarter scoring that had even made a rally from down 15 possible.
Against the Wizards, George started the fourth quarter but was removed with 7:19 to play having played 28 minutes. He returned with 4:41 to play, ensuring he would end around 33 minutes again, had he played the entire fourth quarter. Instead, he was only needed on the court for another minute. He and the rest of the starters were pulled with a 20-point lead after Washington removed its own starters.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.