Tyronn Lue calls Clippers ‘soft’ after Pacers spoil Russell Westbrook’s return

The LA Clippers were hosting the Indiana Pacers on Monday night in what was supposed to be the return of Clippers backup point guard Russell Westbrook after missing 24 days and 12 games with a left hand fracture. It was also a chance for the Clippers to bounce back from another disappointing home performance after losing Sunday to the Philadelphia 76ers, a game in which Clippers coach Tyronn Lue afterward nearly dropped a curse word while describing with frustration how his veteran team knows “what they’re supposed to be doing.”

But after a 133-116 loss on Monday night, Westbrook’s return was an afterthought for a Clippers team that dropped their second straight game overall, fifth straight home game, and is now behind the New Orleans Pelicans for fifth place in the Western Conference with a record of 44-27. Before the game, Lue responded to questions about All-Star Paul George saying the Clippers lacked focus by inviting the media to “ask PG,” while explaining that the Clippers have to improve three things: rebounding, turnovers, and transition defense.

After the game, Lue responded to questions about the Clippers’ identity by saying that the Clippers aren’t tough enough mentally or physically.

“Right now, do we have an identity? I think, yeah. We’re soft,” Lue said calmly, more than a half hour after the final buzzer. “That could be an identity, if you want to call (it) that. Like, we got to be tougher, mentally and physically.”

The Clippers had the NBA’s best record in games played in December and January, going a combined 23-5 in those months and winning the first three games of February to end their season-long Grammy Trip on the road. But since Feb. 6, when the Clippers ended the night at the top of the Western Conference, the team is only 10-12. They are the only team in the league that hasn’t won or lost three straight games since the trade deadline, a seven-week stretch of inconsistent play.

Westbrook played just over 18 minutes Monday night, and had 14 points, four rebounds and seven assists. It’s the first time Westbrook reached those numbers or better in the same game since Nov. 25 against the Dallas Mavericks. After Monday’s game, Westbrook discussed how the Clippers needed to keep the team together.

“You don’t point fingers, you don’t point blame,” Westbrook said before Lue took the podium after the game. “Each individual, I think we got to look within, look within ourselves and figure out how we can better help our team. I think that’s where we start, we start with ourselves. I start with myself. And then come together collectively and figure out how we now bring what we all have and bring to the table.

“As we’ve seen, when we’ve done it the right way, it shows that we’re a hard team to stop. And we know where our ceiling is, we know how we need to get there. And I think ultimately, as a leader, it’s my job just to hold guys accountable, hold myself accountable, and make sure that we stay together through this tough little patch that we’re having. And to me, it’s as simple as that.”

The Clippers will begin a four-game road trip that starts with James Harden’s return game in Philadelphia. Harden is coming off of a game where he missed his lone 3-point attempt, marking the first time Harden played more than 30 minutes and failed to attempt multiple 3s in a game since the 2012 postseason. Overall, the Pacers made 17 3s while the Clippers attempted a season-low 20. All-Star Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton made as many 3s by himself (6-of-9, 21 points) as the Clippers made as a team.

“I’m not sure, haven’t had a chance to talk to him about his shoulder,” said Lue when asked about Harden’s shoulder injury that he missed two games for this month. “James, he always tries to play through whatever he’s going through. So you got to ask him, I’m not quite sure how he’s feeling.”


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(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

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