OKLAHOMA CITY – The two competitive guards stepped out on the floor together to start the game for the first time all season. It became clear that the implications could prove long-lasting.
Yes, Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson made history in the Lakers’ 127-117 loss to the Oklahoma City on Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, marking the first time two Asian-Americans ever started together in the backcourt in the NBA. Lin is the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese descent and Clarkson is half-Filipino, a development significant enough for Lin to tweet out a photo of them on his Instagram account sitting together afterwards on the team plane.
Yet, this development in an otherwise devastating loss proved more than just the two making history. Both Clarkson and Lin offered a promising first impression that they could work together as a starting back-court duo. While Clarkson posted a career-high 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting, seven assists, four rebounds and a career-high three blocks in 36 minutes, Lin added 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting and seven assists in 30 minutes.
“It spreads the floor and either one of us can push it,” Clarkson said about starting with Lin. “It’s an up tempo style. It’s good to have two point guards out there that can move the ball and get to the rim and finish.”
Yet, some uncertainty persisted on whether this dynamic would work together.
Lakers acting head coach Paul Pressey initially envisioned the pair splitting ball-handling duties at “50-50,” giving both Clarkson and Lin equal responsibility in both playmaking and moving off the ball. Yet, it may not have been so simple. Clarkson mostly loves to attack the basket and either score off a pull-up jumper, trip to the foul line or dunk. Lin loves to attack the basket the same way, but has shown more tendency to keep his eyes alert on open teammates.
Lin may have only received two shot attempts in the second half. But that partly accounted for Clarkson taking advantage of an efficient third and fourth quarter where he posted a combined 18 points on a 7-of-10 clip.
“We can make plays, spread the floor and attack,” Lin said. “That’s the beauty of it. We can both attack and make plays. We might do them in different ways and a different style. But it can definitely work and that’s why I have been able to play the 2 in the past and that’s why he can play the 1.”
Pressey said he plans to keep that same lineup intact when the Lakers (18-51) host the Minnesota Timberwolves (16-54) tonight at Target Center in what will mark his last game as the acting head coach. Then, Lakers coach Byron Scott will rejoin the team for Friday’s game in Toronto after spending recent days in Southern California attending funeral services for his mother Dorothy, who died last week at the age of 72.
Pressey repeatedly pulled Clarkson and Lin to the side during a stoppage in play to emphasize running certain sets, to stress certain defensive coverages and to send messages that they can pass along to teammates.
“He knows how to put the ball in the hole. But we’re trying to get him be a facilitator and do it at 50/50,” Pressey said of Clarkson. “That’s part of the learning curve. When you have opportunities to play like he’s playing now, it’s slowly coming for him.”
Both Lin and Clarkson also had the unenviable task in guarding Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook, who posted 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting and 11 assists.
Yet, the argument could be made that the Lakers mostly lost the game because the Thunder outrebounded them, 49-29. Both Clarkson and Lin may have faulted themselves for not helping out their front-court teammates enough on the boards. But that issue mostly stems from Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill sitting out because of a coach’s decision, a tactic Pressey said stemmed from Scott’s want to develop his younger players in Ryan Kelly, Tarik Black and Robert Sacre. Plenty also could see that move in putting the Lakers in a position not to succeed to improve their NBA draft lottery chances in retaining their top-five protected pick otherwise owed to Philadelphia as part of the Steve Nash deal with Phoenix.
Meanwhile, despite Westbrook trying to intimidate with his usual speed, both Clarkson and Lin competed. Lin stopped Westbrook at the rim on possession before nailing a three-point shot on the other end of the court. Clarkson halted Westbrook in his tracks on one play, too.
“You know he’s going to come at you, be aggressive and get his shots up,” said Clarkson, who received no help when Westbrook finished a thunderous alley-oop lob. “You just have to make it where it’s tough on him. When he shoots a number of volume shots, just make it tough.”
Yet, both Clarkson and Lin also made things tough.
Clarkson became the first Lakers player to post at least 30 points, seven assists, four rebounds and three blocks in a game since Kobe Bryant also accomplished that feat on March 6, 2007 in Minnesota. Clarkson’s 30-point game also marked the best game as a Lakers rookie since Eddie Jones also accomplished that feat on Feb. 4, 1995.
Lin’s latest effort marked a 16-game stretch since the NBA All-Star break where he averaged 14.3 points per game on 46 percent shooting. He also scored in double figures in 14 of the past 21 games and gone 41-of-49 from the line in the past seven contests. Lin did all these despite experiencing issues with his sinuses.
Add those two threats together, and the Lakers also posted a season-high 26 fast-break points against the Thunder.
“I thought it was good. I think it was explosive,” Lin said. “I think we can make a really good backcourt. We’ll keep trying to attack. We can attack from different angles and go one-on-one and can play off each other.”
Both players may have a different future with the Lakers.
The Lakers have heavily invested in the 22-year-old Clarkson because of his potential and relatively inexpensive team option next season worth $845,059. Lin will become an unrestricted free agent and may not return to the Lakers. It seems likely he would not make as much as his current $14.9 million salary. Lin has also stayed honest about the adjustments he faced in Scott’s offense that puts less emphasis on pick-and-roll, while Scott has remained equally blunt about Lin’s inconsistency.
But for however the Lakers’ remaining 16 regular-season games play out, both Clarkson and Lin sound interested in a starting back-court partnership. No matter how short it might last.
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