One-on-One: Patrick Patterson opens up as Clippers begin playoff run
The Los Angeles Clippers ended the NBA regular season with a 47-25 record to finish in fourth place in the Western Conference, and they are set to meet Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on May 22 in a first-round rematch of last year's playoff series.
To get an inside look at how the Clippers have operated this season, what the team learned from a disappointing early exit in 2020 and how confident L.A. is this time around with a new head coach in Tyronn Lue, BasketballNews.com spoke with veteran Clippers forward Patrick Patterson. He addressed the team's championship aspirations, the ever-changing roles throughout his career and his favorite moments as a Kentucky Wildcat.
Let's start with Ty Lue. The way that he's coached this team, there's a new energy this season (even though he was around last year), how has the atmosphere and the feel changed?
Patrick Patterson: Things are more laid back. He's given guys more freedom -- freedom out on the court to make mistakes, freedom on the court to learn from those mistakes and transition over to fixing those mistakes in practice and film. But he's been a lot more hands-on; granted, last year he was an assistant coach. And then, seeing him when I was in Toronto and he was in Cleveland, seeing how he interacted with his players and hearing some things from certain guys on the team, he's definitely a players coach. He's going up to guys individually, one-by-one, asking [of] our opinions and our thoughts on things involving the team, things involving the opposition. He's pretty much an open book. He leaves his door open. He lets guys add their two cents and their thoughts when it comes to plays, when it comes to defensive schemes, when it comes to the overall impact of the game -- he seeks opinions of players, which I think is pretty cool.
The coaching staff, they're watching hours upon hours of film and footage of the opposition, of each team that you play, as well as yourself, just trying to critique and put you in the best possible [position] to win and match up. But he looks for his players' opinions quite often, which I think is something remarkable and something unique with him. He takes that information along with the coaching staff's information, and he makes the game plan. So I think that it's pretty dope that he involves the players, and he takes their opinions to heart. I would say this year with him, it's all about freedom, it's all about everyone being open [with] communication on and off the court and him just being not only a coach, but like a friend, mentor and just someone who's there constantly, 24/7 if you need him outside of basketball."
Ty set the record straight about the way this team finished the season since there were some rumblings regarding how you guys would be seeded in the playoffs. But being in Cleveland and having covered him and knowing him well, he isn't somebody who would go out of the way to avoid any type of challenge that comes his way.
Patterson: Oh yeah. If anyone knows Ty Lue, you know he doesn't back away from challenges. He doesn't shy away from controversy and challenge. At the end of the day, some guys were hurt and some guys were feeling pain in whatever part of their body. Some guys needed rest. So he wasn't really concerned about playoff positioning, he wasn't concerned about trying to match up with anyone. The main focus is to go out there and put forth the best effort every single night and try to win a game. But thinking for the bigger picture, guys who are hurting -- guys' ankles, knees, back, whatever it may be, foot -- trying to tend to that and then focus on the next step, which is the playoffs.
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are a couple of guys that Ty was surely trying to make sure came into the postseason fresh. But they're having tremendous seasons, and they appear to be pretty healthy. What's it been like to see their second season together considering year one didn't go quite as planned?
Patterson: I would just say their ability to transition to being more together. I think PG and Kawhi, they did a great job of linking up in the offseason and working out, training with each other, constant communication, hanging out, just developing that chemistry off the court and transitioning that to [their] play on the court. And I think having one year together under their belt definitely prepared them for this year. Just having a better feel for what each other likes out there on the basketball court, opportunities that they can create for each other and how to play alongside each other out there on the court. So this year, I think they transitioned to just being more open with each other when it comes to communicating off the court about what they want, what they like, what they need, the type of shots that they prefer, where they want the ball, certain situations -- if the game clock is low, what type of play do you want.
You could talk about it like we did last year, and then we tried to incorporate that into the game, but it takes time for you to develop that feel, that trust out there on the court. And having that year under the belt, having an offseason under their belt and now progressing to this season, you can definitely see the change with them to just being more trusting -- not only with each other, but the whole entire team. So many guys are shooting the ball quite well from the three-point line. So many guys are having tremendous seasons outside of Kawhi and PG, and that's all because of their ability to trust the rest of us and make the right play, to share the ball, to move the ball. They demand so much attention, so they believe in us whenever they swing it to us and we take a shot. It's those guys just leading the way, being the head of the snake and just realizing that we move as they move and we go as they go.
What did this locker room learn after that series vs. the Denver Nuggets in the West semifinals last year, and how can that be applied toward your mindset this time around?
Patterson: That we've got to be tougher and we've got to accept accountability. This season, I thought we've been doing a great job of matching teams' toughness, being physical, more often than not, punching the team first and attacking first and striking first rather than countering and trying to battle back. Guys accepting that if they're not playing well, if they do something wrong out there on the court, if we go into film, if we're back on the bench and a teammate [is] ripping you and talking to you about it, guys are more accepting and understanding to constructive criticism this year than last, and they're holding themselves accountable. So I would definitely say accountability [is the] difference from last year to this year. Learning what our mistakes were in the playoffs vs. Denver -- pretty much choking, needless to say -- and taking all that we did last year, bringing that energy, that focus and that hungriness into this season, and just trying to build off of that.
You've also got a rematch coming up against the Mavs now. Things got a little heated when you met in the first round last postseason. What do you expect to happen in this matchup -- from a strategical standpoint and as far as the tension goes?
Patterson: Same thing as last year -- physicality, a whole bunch of trash-talking, a whole bunch of complaining to the refs about not getting calls, guys just hungry and aggressive, tough, back-and-forth. You already know Luka is going to be Luka [and] probably try to go out there and carry the team as much as possible, get up 20-plus shots, try to hit some incredible stepback threes and tough floaters and attack the paint to draw and kick to his teammates to his shots as well. [Kristaps] Porzingis is healthy. He's looking good. He's still that physical force, a seven-footer who can put it on the floor, space the floor, get your bigs away from the basket, post-up, rebound, dunk -- he does everything. So that team is very solid. [Dwight] Powell is back. I don't think they had him last year, so you know what you're gonna get with him -- someone who's hungry, someone who's attacking the glass, rebounding, speed rolls, alley-oops, just playing tremendously hard every single night. We know Luka's the head of the snake on that team; they go as he goes. He's gonna try his best to win the game for them as much as possible, so we just have to take him out of the equation as best as we can, and offensively, guys [need to] just play the way that they know how to play.
You're a veteran, someone that has to be prepared at all times no matter what. What's that like on a championship contender where sometimes you don't know when you're gonna get into a game, and when you do get into a game, you're gonna be depended on?
Patterson: To me, it's funny. I accept my role throughout my peers. My role has changed on each team that I've been on. I pretty much adapt to change, [and] learning to do that throughout my career. And now with the Clips, coming into this stay-ready mode whenever my name is called upon, just making sure I go out there and do my job, to compete. And just getting the call -- whether it's like 20 minutes before the game, whether it's the night before the game, whether it's the day before the game -- getting the heads up from T-Lue on the situation, am I gonna be playing or starting, it's cool. I enjoy it. They trust me. They believe in me to go out there and do my job and help out my teammates. That belief, it means a lot to me, so I just stay focused as much as possible, continue my regimen off the court, the same routine every single day. It's just pretty cool knowing that my teammates and the coaching staff have that belief in me that, whenever my name is called upon before the game, they have that confidence in me that I'm gonna out there and not miss a beat. They can trust and rely on me in any situation, whether it's a big game, whether it's coming into the playoffs now -- they trust me. I'm a vet. I've been in these situations before. It just feels good.
When you're not on the floor, what do you find is your most important role as a teammate?
Patterson: Just communicating with those guys [about] what I see out there on the court, opportunities that could present themselves -- whether it's with K, whether it's to P, whether it's Zu [Ivica Zubac], Marcus [Morris], Pat [Beverley], whoever it may be -- just using my eyes and my experience and things that I see. Playcalls, offensive schemes that can help us, defensive things that we can do to ultimately get the win. Talking to the coaching staff, talking to the players throughout the games, keeping their confidence and their spirits high, and just keeping that energy from the bench [for] the whole entire game. So just a combination of all those things, but just using my experience and my IQ as much as possible.
Was there a particular instance where you feel your knowledge or advice came into play and it impacted the game?
Patterson: Nothing [specific] per se. Each game is different. There might be a game where I feel like if Zu does a certain thing on the court, it'll allow him to get better opportunities scoring and it worked out. Or telling Pat or another player on the team, 'When you drive, this player's helping every single time, so just drive to draw attention and then kick it out to this player, who's normally wide open.' Just stuff like that throughout the game. There's little things like that, that I see that continue throughout the game -- just throwing it into my teammates' ear to be aware of it and keep their eyes open.
This is your eighth straight season in the playoffs. From the time you were starting and playing 30 minutes a night, and the years that you've been more in this role, what's the most important thing that you've learned from your experiences?
Patterson: Just adapting to change. That's it, that's my number one thing. My whole career has been adapting to change, and I think by doing that well, I'm able to withstand the test of time and still be in this league 11 years later, and hopefully a lot more. So just having vets my first year in Houston, like Kyle Lowry, Shane Battier, Jared Jeffries, Yao Ming and Brad Miller [and] those guys like that-- just getting knowledge from them and then transitioning over to Sacramento and having John Salmons and being reunited with DeMarcus [Cousins], and then going to Toronto and having that opportunity to go out there and play and be in a great country, a great city, a great environment overall. And then transferring over to OKC and having to come off the bench at times, and then play behind Melo [Carmelo Anthony] and Jerami Grant, Russ [Westbrook] and PG -- being a part of that team and then now here.
So everywhere I've been, there's been some type of change, or some type of adaptation I've had to adjust to my game and my approach, and just having the mindset, the focus and the maturity to understand that if I want to remain in the league, I need to adapt, I need to accept and I need to know not be a hassle or someone negative on the team, and just continue being myself and just grow. And by accepting that, it makes my job a lot easier. It makes my role fun, and it makes being in this league enjoyable.
The roster's a little different around the edges now with Serge Ibaka, Nic Batum, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins and Luke Kennard in the mix -- a little more experience in the fold in addition with you and Marcus Morris. How do you feel about each of these additions and how they improve the team?
Patterson: So much veteran leadership, so many guys who have either been in the playoffs or deep in the playoffs. I completely forgot that Boogie was in the Finals. That slipped my mind until I saw some clips during the game and I was like, ‘Oh yeah that's right, he was out there with Steph [Curry] and all them.’ So just having Serge, have an opportunity to play with him again. PG, battling against him when he was in Indiana, then having the opportunity to be his teammate again for a fourth year. K, and his experience, Luke [as well]. Marcus, having been his teammate in Houston and then those pit stops he made and the success that he had in Boston. Everyone's just...they're hungry, they're experienced, they have high basketball IQs, they know the ins and outs of the game, [and] they know their game, most importantly -- what they can do and bring to this team to success. And everyone's just smart. No one's out there really making boneheaded plays, no one's young and immature. Everyone's just hungry adults and focused on achieving the ultimate goal, which is the championship.
With the new craze over in Brooklyn and players shifting to different teams, it feels like you guys haven't had the same amount of outside expectations as you did last year, but it feels like that also could make you guys very dangerous. Are you confident this group can win a title?
Patterson: I'm 100% confident. We believe we can use our mistakes -- our downfall from last year -- as motivation to achieve the ultimate goal, which is holding that trophy [by] winning these games, staying focused and staying together. I have 100% belief -- from the coaches all the way down to the players and training staff, the organization heads, everyone who's made this team possible -- that we can achieve the ultimate goal and win the championship. I have no doubt in my mind that we can do it; we just have to go out there and prove it to ourselves that we can get this done.
Seeing you and Boogie back together - you guys were in Sacramento, and in Lexington, KY. What is your guys' relationship like? What kind of wisdom have you shared with him, especially since he's had injury issues?
Patterson: That's my big little brother. [It’s] so good to be his teammate again, so good to see him. I was trying to get him here as hard as I could, Rondo as well; [I’m] thankful that [Clippers president] Lawrence [Frank] and those guys gave him the opportunity to be here. He's been an amazing fit. Teammates love him, the coaching staff loves him. He's a great dude. Just being able to reminisce with him again, trying to take care of him and John [Wall] and Eric [Bledsoe] when they were freshmen and I was a junior at Kentucky, being like a father figure then like they're my kids, trying to keep them safe and out of harm's way and out of trouble every single day. Just the memories that we created, the times that we shared on and off tbhe court back then, and then as well, seeing him triumph and have tremendous success in the NBA. Being drafted that night -- all five of us in the first round -- and then just seeing his NBA career.
Granted, he's had some injuries, but he never gave up. He never stopped believing in himself when a lot of people in his situation would have just given up and just either tried to go overseas or just gave up on basketball entirely [or] try to find some other means to an end. But he stuck with it, he worked extremely hard, he believed in himself, he never gave up and now he's here with us now and we're all definitely fortunate to have him. It just feels good to have my Big Blue Nation brothers on this team. I'm hoping next year, wherever I'm at -- hopefully here with the Clippers again -- we can have some more Big Blue Nation on this team. Everywhere I go, I always say I would love to see an entire team of Big Blue Nation guys, because we take over the league. There's so many of us. But yeah, it's great having him as a teammate and seeing him again. Big little brother -- it's very good.
That 2010 Kentucky team is basically the start of that dynasty that John Calipari had there.
Patterson: Yeah. I made myself feel old the other day. Good ol’ Facebook always hits you with them Timehop photos. My Timehop photo was 14 years ago, I committed to the University of Kentucky, and I was like, ‘Wow, 14 years ago...man.’ And then of course, [I] click on the photos and then [it’s] just a flood of Kentucky photos from my first through my third year. It's the good old days. I miss those days, miss the Big Blue Nation, miss Lexington, miss Rupp arena, miss Cal and all those teammates I had. It was fun times. I always wish guys from high school -- they make their own choice, but the memories that you create in high school, the brotherhood that you create in college with those guys, those teammates, is second to none. You can't beat that whatsoever, and I always wish upon every single individual, every single kid that goes to college or is thinking about going to college, that they actually do it, because you won't regret it.
Doesn't it feel awesome to be someone that was on the first of those Big Blue Nation teams that Cal coached though?
Patterson: We paved the way. I was there with [Billy] Gillispie those first two years, you know, those rough years. And then, being able to stay my junior year and being alongside Calipari that first year, pretty much be the stepping stone that paved the way for Kentucky's return to fame, stardom -- where they're supposed to be at. It felt good. It feels good knowing that I helped lead the way to AD [Anthony Davis] and them getting a championship, and then the twins [Aaron and Andrew Harrison] being there, [Julius] Randle and all them being there and so forth with these young guys now. So just creating that buzz again with Kentucky, because who knows if Calipari never came to Kentucky, where Kentucky would be? But he chose to come there, he chose to allow me to stay my junior year, create that great memory, that great bond with those guys, and just pretty much put Kentucky back on the map.
You're a big horror movie fan. So what's your go-to flick right now? I'm sure you're excited to see the new Conjuring.
Patterson: Oh yeah, very excited to see The Conjuring coming up. Still got to check out Spiral and see how that one is. My go-to if I need to watch something scary... Sinister is up there. Something like, realistic-scary that can actually happen, would be The Strangers. And then my all-time favorite horror movie -- it's corny, because it was made so long ago, so it's not really that scary -- but their original Nightmare on Elm Street way back in the day. So those are my go-to's. If I want to try to scare myself and sit alone in the dark, I usually go with Sinister. But if I just want to see if something can actually happen in real life -- because in a movie like The Strangers, it could actually happen in real life [and] probably has and we don't know about it -- but that's that's another go-to. And It Follows was, to me, revolutionary. But yeah, Horror's definitely my genre, that's my go-to.