The Clippers’ Daniel Oturu dunks during an NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas. (Chase Stevens / Associated Press)
Running in transition with the ball in his hands Friday, a place a 6-foot-10 player rarely enjoys possession, Clippers center Daniel Oturu lobbed a pass to teammate Amir Coffey. The soft touch ended resulted with a thunderous dunk.
It was perhaps the easiest basket the Clippers scored all night in the Lakers’ 86-84 victory at Thomas & Mack Center.
This was not Paul George and Co. against LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. The dates of those future Lakers-Clippers showdowns are expected to be revealed as soon as next week, when the NBA publishes its schedule for the upcoming season.
Instead, this was each team’s third Summer League game, a night of sputtering offense — the Clippers shot 45% overall, the Lakers 38% — a blown 11-point Lakers lead and, with it, a lively finish that ended with Brandon Boston Jr.’s missed three-pointer for the win in the final seconds.
The Clippers remain winless in Las Vegas, while the Lakers are 2-1.
Five takeaways from Summer League:
The top scorers
Vic Law led the Lakers with 15 points. Boston Jr., the second-round pick for whom the Clippers hold such high hopes, settled in for his most comfortable performance yet as a professional, making seven of his 13 shots and finishing with 17 points in front of an audience that included coach Tyronn Lue, top executive Lawrence Frank and guard Patrick Beverley. He had made seven of his 22 shots in his first two games combined. Boston’s lithe frame needs strength, but his mechanics are smooth and his 6-7 height allows him to get his shot off against defenders of all sizes. He also has yet to miss a three-pointer from either corner this summer, a location he’s focusing on by design.
“Regular season you’re playing with [Paul George], Kawhi, Rondo, all those big guys so you’re not going to be able to dribble like I want to,” Boston said. “So just dribbling to that corner, getting the shots that I need and the shots that are going to be taken during the season is something I’m just practicing.”
Clippers second-round pick Jason Preston split the defense with three minutes to play in the fourth quarter and hung in the air at the rim before spinning his layup into the basket on the opposite side of the rim where his leap began. It was a much-needed offensive highlight for the former Ohio guard after making one of his first six shots in his first two games and struggling to get past his defender with his dribble.
He finished with 12 points, making four of his 10 shots — including his first made three-pointer of the summer — and kept the game close with a block from behind and steal in the final two minutes.
The runner-up award? That goes to Lakers guard Trevelin Queen, only 6-2, who saw minimal boxing out by the Clippers and leaped over their backs for a put-back dunk in the final minute of the third quarter.
“Drive, kick, swing” was already the Clippers’ unofficial motto under Lue, the three words outlining their offensive philosophy of driving to the paint, passing to the perimeter and moving the ball around the arc until an open shot is found. It was made a bit more official this summer when the team printed the three words on T-shirts.
There were times Friday when the Clippers finally followed those commandments, turning one pass into another, and another and lastly into an open shot. Whether it missed or not it was a signal, even if faint, that despite an often ugly offensive performance through three three summer games, they’ve begun to get a better handle on the right process. They finished with 22 assists, four more than their first-game total and six more than in their second.
“From last game we watched a lot of film, we talked a lot and they just grew from watching the film of themselves not doing it,” said Jeremy Castleberry, the Clippers’ coach. “We moved the ball a lot more this game compared to the last game. We got the ball to change sides of the floor, especially in the second half.
“It was a lot of good, positive things I saw over there. … As much as I do want to win and I’m frustrated by losing, it’s about getting these guys better and more prepared.”
Entering Friday the Clippers looked exactly like a team that had practiced together no more than five days before their summer opener — disjointed, with missed opportunities and missed communication. They began to settle in Friday.
Clearly frustrated but not paralyzed by his brutal shooting start, forward and restricted free agent Amir Coffey — who has now made one of his 17 three-pointers — stayed aggressive in looking for opportunities by driving into the paint, including two drives to the rim in the final minutes of a close game.
Preston appeared more comfortable creating for others, lofting passes upcourt to start a fast break and over the top of the defense to a backup big man for another close look in the second half. Keon Johnson is the last draft pick to find his rhythm, having made 10 of his 40 shots through three games.
Scrubb changes focus
For Jay Scrubb, who had taken 38 shots combined, but with only two assists, in his first two games, Friday’s game was essentially played with an eye on next winter, when his shooting opportunities won’t come as easily as they have against summer competition. How will he fare then, when he is not the best option to score? This was a preview.
Having displayed his bona fides as a scorer early in Monday’s summer debut — the quick first step, handle and easy release that rebounded along with his health last spring — he took only seven shots while dishing six assists, including a dump-off for a layup while floating near the rim. He also pushed the ball upcourt with a bounce pass threaded between two defenders that showed his willingness to move the ball. Scrubb has also said he plans to use this summer to improve as a defender. There was more mixed progress there. He blocked a shot in the first half to start a fast break, but later also was beaten by a backdoor cut for a layup.
Scrubb can get his shot nearly any time he wants against summer competition. But that alone won’t secure him rotation minutes next season, and he seems to know it.
“I’m just trying to focus more on getting my teammates involved,” he said. “I know that in any play, in any second that I can get myself involved I can create a shot for myself. Tonight I just wanted to focus more on getting others involved, driving into the paint , kicking it out, not taking forced shots, just making the right play.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.