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Rodney McGruder, Terance Mann not shying away from potentially big roles with Clippers this season

Terance Mann, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Rodney McGruder

HONOLULU – The LA Clippers may have been the home team on paper, but it was James Harden and the Houston Rockets who had the Stan Sheriff Center cheering most of the night. Despite the roars for Harden, who finished with 37 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in 28 minutes of preseason action, the Clippers saw impressive glimpses of what could come from Rodney McGruder and Terance Mann.

Following just three days of practice, the Clippers dropped their preseason opener 109-96. McGruder led the way off the bench with 12 points, three rebounds, and three assists in 17 minutes, while Mann finished with eight points, nine rebounds, and four assists in 25 minutes.

The Clippers had been raving about Mann since training camp began, with both players and coaches praising his ball-handling, playmaking, rebounding, defense, and ability to go downhill. Of course, he is a rookie, and this is the very first taste of NBA action Mann has gotten, but it was a good one.

Unlike most preseason games, Mann matched up with an MVP candidate who played significant minutes in this one. Harden drew what felt like every foul call, shooting as well as non-shooting. In typical Harden fashion, he attempted 20 free throws, knocking down 17 of them, while knocking down four of his 14 three-point attempts.

“Yeah, it’s pretty difficult,” Mann admitted about defending Harden. “You don’t really know what he’s gonna do. He really likes that step-back and he really likes driving left, so you don’t know what’s coming.”

Luckily for Mann, he had the best defender in the NBA on his side and in his ear about how to make things tough for Harden.

“I grew up watching him,” added Mann. “But I was just locked in and trying to learn the principles that Kawhi and everybody else was telling me. I was just locked in out there.”

Terance Mann, Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

@TeranceMann/ Instagram

Kawhi Leonard didn’t play in this one, but definitely made his impact felt from the bench by staying vocal and giving his young teammates tips.

“It’s definitely a great experience, especially during the preseason so it’s not a real game. It’s a good learning experience.”

Mann was aggressive in rebounding all night, coming up with four offensive rebounds, and kept attacking the basket to create for himself and his teammates. Doc Rivers came out of the game happy with what Mann has done, but knows there’s more still to come from the 22-year old guard.

“Terance has size, he has speed,” said Rivers. “I think he can be better defensively than he was today. He has a chance to be a big time defender. I thought he was little more passive, but first game though.

“He’s learning now that it’s a very demanding position. I think he understood that, he’s had things told to him a lot and not just by me but by his teammates, too.”

Rodney McGruder shined on the court as well as in his postgame interview. The former Heat guard was matched up with James Harden for much of the night and didn’t take a step back to the 2018 MVP.

“It was fun man,” said McGruder on going up against Harden. “It’s fun. If you’re a competitor, you look forward to matchups like that and challenges like that. I just enjoy competing against the best in the game.”

Harden was attempting side-step threes, step-back threes, and even pulled out his new one-legged, sideways fadeaway three-pointer as well.

“I’ve guarded him before though so it’s not the first time. He makes you work. He can shoot any shot he wants. It’s like playing 1-on-1. It is out there when you’re guarding him cuz he’s shooting one-legged, stepback, he can do whatever so it’s fun though.”

McGruder was the player defending Harden when he attempted the shot from the corner as fans cheered that they got to see the shot almost go down.

McGruder wasn’t surprised at all that Harden pulled it out of his bag, but was adamant that he didn’t foul James.

“I’ve been seen that. He tried it last game and he’s been trying it all summer so I’m not surprised by that. I didn’t foul him. He sold it though. He sold it, so they gave him the call. You just gotta go with it.”

Rivers couldn’t say enough good things about McGruder, who figures to be a key part of the Clippers rotation with or without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George active.

“Rodney was great,” said Rivers. “Rodney makes plays. He just a solid player and I think the better the players on the floor with Rodney, the better Rodney is. He’s been around and he knows the game.

“I just liked our guys competing against [Harden]. The two fouls that Rodney got, I liked that. At least he was physical, he was aggressive, he wasn’t backing down. That’s gotta be the attitude we have every night.”

James Harden, Rodney McGruder, Clippers, Rockets

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Perhaps the best quote of the night came from McGruder, who was asked after the game about the feel of the first preseason game. McGruder didn’t feel like it was just another preseason game.

“Every game is serious when you step between the lines. You can’t take any opponent for granted, so you’ve got to come out and compete with the same intensity whether you’re playing against the world champs [or not]. You’ve got to respect your opponent and go out and compete.”

The Clippers will have Friday off to enjoy the beaches of Waikiki before heading back to the gym for practice on Saturday. They’ll play their final preseason game in Hawaii on Sunday afternoon against the Shanghai Sharks before heading back to Los Angeles.