Cap one of the largest comeback victories in NBA history with one of the most improbable final-few-second stretches the league has ever seen – as the Clippers did in Tuesday’s 116-115 victory over Washington – and you’ve got a game that’s going to reverberate far and wide.
In Franklin, Ohio, where Luke Kennard’s former high school coach had his spirits buoyed when he saw his former star player’s name trending on Twitter.
In Sarasota, Florida, where retired Hall of Fame broadcaster Ralph Lawler stayed dutifully tuned in from his winter home, sensing the energy shift in a recognizable way.
In the stands at Capital One Arena, where Jordan White was one of a handful of fans rooting for the away team and losing his mind when he witnessed the 35-point comeback, the largest in team history and second-largest in league history since at at least 1996-97.
While guard Reggie Jackson was telling his teammates, “We’re right where we want to be!” at halftime, when the Clippers trailed 66-36 after falling behind by as many as 35 in the second quarter, White was maintaining much the same energy in the arena’s lower bowl.
“Still being me,” said White, an Orange County resident who was visiting family and friends in the Washington DC area where he grew up. “I still had to talk my trash, let the people around me know it’s nothing we haven’t seen before with these slow starts.”
And when Coach Tyronn Lue benched all of his starters beside Amir Coffey and Terance Mann, White had a hunch the tide could turn – as it had when Kennard and Mann keyed a 22-point comeback against Atlanta last March: “I said, ‘This is not throwing in the towel; this is doing what he did last season.’”
Lawler was thinking that Lue has some guts to make those wholesale changes: “I salute Coach Lue, it takes some courage to totally change your lineup and sit a couple of your key veteran players like that, but it’s what changed the nature of the game ”
And though Lawler – the voice of the Clippers for 41 years – wonders how many viewers tuned out when the team was “dead in the water,” he wasn’t one of them.
“Jo and I were lying in bed at the end of the game watching it,” Lawler said by phone from Florida. “And when it got inside of 10, I said, ‘My gosh, they’re gonna win this stinking game!'”
And they did, thanks to what Lawler characterized as Kennard’s “Reggie Miller-like” seven-points-in-nine-seconds sequence, in which he sealed the comeback by connecting on an audacious 3-pointer from at least 35 feet, a leaning long ball through contact and the subsequent go-ahead free throw that gave the Clippers their only lead with 1.9 seconds left.
White said he dropped his cell phone and leaped onto his seat, almost without realizing it, drawing a reprimand from an usher: “C’mon, you know you can’t stand on those seats!” before he hastened toward the tunnel to high-five Lue as he was leaving the court.
— Jordan (@j_izeah) January 26, 2022
“I’ve seen some crazy stuff over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite as crazy as that,” said Lawler, who noted that Eric Bledsoe was part of both the Clippers’ win Tuesday and another of the team’s most monumental comebacks in 2012, when they rallied from 21 points down in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
In that one, the Clippers tied the NBA playoff record for largest deficit overcome at the end of three quarters. On Tuesday, their final flourish was, according to ESPN, the second time in 20 years – and in more than 16,240 games – that a team won despite trailing by seven more points with fewer than 20 seconds left in regulation.
I thought I had seen Everything and then the Clippers come from 35-down to beat Wizards in Washington on last second 4-point play to Win it. Greatest come-back I’ve ever seen.
— Ralph Lawler (@Ohmeomy) January 26, 2022
It was the toast of NBA Twitter – so that when Brian Bales, the Franklin High School athletic director and the boys basketball coach, logged in with the intention to, as usual, search for “Luke Kennard,” he didn’t have to go hunting for news. References to the two-time Ohio Gatorade Basketball Player of the Year flooded his timeline.
Speaking by phone from Ohio, Bales was happy to see all the accounts of Kennard’s clutch 25-point performance, especially after his Wildcats’ 14-game winning streak ended earlier in the evening.
“I’ve seen him come through time and time again in those kinds of situations,” Bales said of Kennard, who once hit 11 consecutive 3-pointers in the first half of a high school game. “He gets a certain look about him, and when he has that look, the basket gets really big.”
“I can see it in his eyes, how he walks. Some nights it was in warmups and I knew, ‘We gotta get this guy the ball tonight.’ On TV, sometimes I see it.”
It was there Tuesday, said Bales – who has a suggestion for the NBA: “Put that man in the 3-point contest! I put him up against anybody, he’s in the same category as Stephen Curry, one of the top shooters in the world.”
Lawler concurs: “I wouldn’t care if Luke never passes the ball again as long as he’s a Clipper.”
Kennard – whose 44.1% 3-point mark as a Clipper entering Wednesday’s game in Orlando ranks No.1 in franchise history – didn’t pass on his looks late Tuesday, inspiring a giddy text message from his proud former coach: “Oh snap! ”
Kennard’s response, Bales said: “LOL – I got lucky.”