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How ‘foaming at the mouth’ hate for Eric Gordon forged his calming presence in court

Seeking stability in a thin season, the Clippers turned to a player who wasn’t on the roster until a month ago.

“I think he gives us peace of mind when he’s on the court,” coach Tyronn Lue said.

In the midst of a rotation where playing time is constantly being evaluated, it took the Clippers little time to adopt the new face as part of the lineups that often close out close games.

“It all comes down to trust, we trust him with the ball,” All-Star Paul George said. “He’s going to make the right plays.”

That player is Eric Gordon, the 34-year-old, 6-foot-3 reserve guard whose 89 minutes in the fourth quarter since his Clippers debut on Feb. 14 is the team’s second-highest total in that span, trailed only by George’s 104. The Clippers have outscored their opponents by 47 points in those minutes from Gordon, a plus/minus that’s not only a team record, but the sixth-best plus/minus of the fourth quarter. in the nba since February 14.

After scoring 14 points in the third quarter on Wednesday against Golden State, Gordon played the final six minutes of the fourth quarter to cap off the Clippers’ vital fourth straight win.

“I’ve always been this kind of glue, a reassuring feeling for a team where I can walk into a game and I can change the game and just different facets and know how to fit in,” Gordon told The Times. “In all the teams I’ve been on, good team, bad team, I’ve always been looking for ways to fit in.”

The Clippers traded for Gordon, believing he could give their lineups this sense of security. It’s a role he’s eminently comfortable in, given that the stakes, even amidst the Clippers’ championship aspirations, don’t feel as heavy once you’ve played through seasons of basketball surrounded, in fact, by For security.

Before Gordon was an NBA professional for 15 years, he was one of America’s top recruits, a guard built like a safety who could put the ball in the rim. His verbal commitment to Illinois caused chaos. So did his decision to back out of his non-binding commitment and switch his allegiance to conference rival Indiana after the Hoosiers hired coach Kelvin Sampson.

Eric Gordon, while still in high school, is greeted by fans before an Indiana Hoosiers practice in October 2006.

(Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

Shocked by the backlash from fans after the change, Gordon spent his senior year of high school in Indianapolis accompanied by a personal security guard. When he arrived in Indiana, his security detail expanded to two people, Gordon recalled Wednesday, saying Illinois fans sometimes tried to get close to him as he walked through the Bloomington campus.

All of that was noise that reached a crescendo during Indiana’s road game at Illinois on February 7, 2008.

The announcement of Gordon’s name during pregame announcements was nearly drowned out by boos from an Illini crowd later described by Indiana’s student newspaper as “foam at the mouth with hate for Gordon”. As Gordon ran to half court for a traditional starters meeting, Illinois guard Chester Frazier hit Gordon in the chest hard enough to push the Hoosier guard back several steps. Hearing “liar” calls, Gordon scored just one point in the first half. He would finish with 19 in a double-overtime win for Indiana, a save when Gordon’s 3-pointer came in to tie it with 25 seconds remaining in regulation.

Also late in the game, ESPN reported at the time that accounts were thrown at a section of fans that included Gordon’s parents. Gordon recalled Wednesday that four security guards had been hired for that game to protect his parents.

The experience changed what he considered pressure. While you’re being asked to space the court, defend and complement Clippers stars George and Kawhi Leonard, in the midst of a title push comes a lot, it’s also not the same as living through a game you took personally. .

“In the NBA you have to fight against adversity all the time, from team to team, whatever the situation is on the court, it’s about working it out and fighting against adversity,” Gordon told The Times. “And I learned a lot about that in high school and college.

“In college, nothing really went our way. We had a great team, they always wanted to fire the coach, they fired him and our season ended badly, and then the Illinois stuff. It was good to have that experience.”

The Clippers are reaping the benefits.

Given his long-range credentials, Gordon’s shooting threat would be the main reason to keep him late, but he’s only shot 32% in the fourth as a Clipper, including just 4-for-18 on 3-point attempts. But Gordon has been reliable in limiting his errors (15 assists against just two turnovers) and found ways to elevate the larger group, including on defense. When Gordon is on the court in the final quarters, opponents have made just 40.9% of his shots, the second-best mark on the list. When he is off, opponents They have shot to 55%. That 14 percentage point gap is the team’s biggest swing.

To open Wednesday’s second half against the Warriors, Lue placed Gordon in the starting lineup void left by the ejection of Marcus Morris Sr., and Gordon responded with four 3-pointers from an average of 26 feet in the third quarter, the The Clippers are looking forward to getting their defender much further away from the basket, and away from helping defend stars George and Leonard as well. Gordon re-entered in the fourth quarter with the Clippers leading by seven points and played the final six minutes of an eight-point victory.

Clippers guard Eric Gordon, right, shoots in front of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson.

Clippers guard Eric Gordon, right, shoots in front of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson during a game on February 14.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

“Just watching him and playing against him over the years, he always played his part, whatever the team needed him to do,” Lue said. “He came in and told me the exact same thing, like, ‘Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it.’ And he is fitting in very well.”

Gordon isn’t the only newcomer to tell Lue that sacrificial message. Gordon’s emergence as a closer has often sidelined starting guard Russell Westbrook. However, Westbrook was impressive again in his 27 minutes, with 15 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers while staying disciplined with the shots he took against a defense that tempted him into uncontested jump shots.

“You think Russ, you think relentless,” George said. “And that was the imprint he put on the game.”

Multiple Clippers locked the winning streak and increased comfort for rotation players Gordon, Westbrook and Mason Plumlee, who were added on or after the Feb. 9 trade deadline as a result of more practice time than usual during last week. But that doesn’t fully explain the change, Gordon said. Two weeks after postgame comments following a loss to Golden State in which he blamed a late-season rebound on players, Gordon stood in the locker room Wednesday night and said a trade of mindset had allowed it to come true.

George also echoed that now, “we’re playing for each other and hoping to win, that was the big difference.”

And they’ve felt a difference with Gordon’s calm in the clutch.

“I’m never afraid to take a tough late-game shot because there’s going to be a lot more moments in the game in the playoffs or whatever, you just have to be ready to take them down,” he said. .

In just one month with the Clippers, Gordon has already seen the effect of a five-game losing streak and the rejuvenation of a four-win streak. He keeps it in perspective. He has played worse.