I don’t know what it is about being down 0-2, but that fight-or-flight response brings out the best in the Los Angeles (formerly Temecula) Clippers. We saw it this postseason against the Dallas Mavericks; history repeated itself against the Utah Jazz, and on Thursday night, it was the Phoenix Suns’ turn to incur the wrath of Game 3.
With Chris Paul’s triumphant return to the fold after missing the first two games of the series due to COVID-19, and Kawhi Leonard still MIA with a mysterious knee injury, it was a foregone conclusion that L.A.’s other team would suffer the same fate as Taylor Swift and get murdered on national television.
But a funny thing happened along the way, and his name is Mr. June.
Sure, Devin Booker’s reign of terror was beset by foul trouble and poor shooting (5-21 from the floor), and CP3 didn’t exactly look like himself either—and Cam Payne’s nasty ankle injury could ultimately spell the Suns’ undoing—but it was Reggie Jackson who saw the Clippers’ season on the line yet again, and showed up to show out once more.
Jackson has always had the talent—ask Russell Westbrook, with whom he routinely butted heads with when his career was still in its infancy—but after being exiled to Detroit in 2015, the Boston College product failed to fulfill his immense potential. Fast forward to this year, and after being deemed a liability during his bumpy inaugural season in Los Angeles, the 31-year-old has finally found his stride.
After negotiating a buyout with the Pistons literally just before the world came to an end last March, Jackson re-emerged with the rest of his new teammates during The Bubble, but barely saw any action under the oppressive rule of Doc Rivers. Emperor Ty Lue saw the value in the nine-year vet, however, and has unleashed him at the most opportune time: The playoffs.
On Thursday night, he delivered 23 points in 33 minutes of action to help push the Clippers past the Suns 106-92 and keep their championship aspirations alive. And this wasn’t some timely outlier, Jackson has been doing the damn thing all postseason.
Ever since the regular season ended, and banished Steph Curry to watch from outside of the club, Jackson has been on a tear, averaging nearly 18 points, three boards, and three assists every time he touches the floor. Against Dallas he enjoyed a pair of 20-point performances, and against Utah in the Western Conference Semifinals, he erupted with outings of 29 points, 27 points, and 22 points. He only seems to be getting hotter, too, evolving into a major contributor with two separate 20-point assaults in his first three games against Phoenix.
For Mr. June—who’s earned that nickname as a nod to the two-time World Series MVP of the same name—he’s picked the perfect time to ball out, too. After playing for the veteran’s minimum in back-to-back seasons, Jackson will be a hot commodity on the free agent market this summer. (As will his counterpart, Cam Payne.)
Jackson is also acutely aware of how well he has it and is eternally grateful to the Clippers for helping to resuscitate his career.
“They’ve empowered me,” Jackson told reporters after Game 3. “Honestly, this team has empowered me, this organization has empowered me since the time that I have been here. From playing early, to not playing, having DNPs, roles changing throughout the year. I think once I started to find some comfortability and just practicing and having roles throughout the game change, finding some success.”
He added, “It was really our leaders. Kawhi, Paul, Pat [Beverley], and then collectively everybody, coaches—they were just on me about being aggressive. Stay aggressive, stay aggressive.”
If not for the auspicious debut of “Wayoff P” in Game 2, the Clippers would be up 2-1 in their series against Phoenix. But if adversity truly builds character, these 2021 NBA Playoffs could serve as the perfect incubator for the next stage of Jackson’s career.