LOS ANGELES — The LA Clippers have not won a game since acquiring James Harden — and coach Ty Lue is clear in what he wants to see from his new star.
«He’s being too polite,» Lue said.
In Harden’s first home game with his new team before his hometown crowd, the Clippers dropped their fifth straight with a 105-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at Crypto.com Arena.
With Harden in the lineup, the Clippers are 0-4 and still very much trying to figure things out with their new Big Four of Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
George led the Clippers with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. But Leonard scored just 14 points and was held scoreless in the fourth quarter, while Harden missed 6 of 7 3-pointers and scored 11 points. Westbrook had 12 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
Lue said he told Harden and the team on Saturday at practice that Harden has «free rein» to play his style against Memphis.
«I think he’s doing too much to try to fit in,» Lue said. «So that’s on me. Just yesterday we had a talk amongst the team and just he has to be James Harden. He led the league in assists the last two or three years, and making plays and what he does in the pick-and-roll, he’s great. So, we have to allow him to be himself.
«I think the whole group hearing that and understanding that — listen, we’re going to play through James, he’s going to run pick-and-rolls, he’s going to make plays. They understood that. And so just letting the group hear that in front of James. So now he feels more comfortable, but he doesn’t want to step on anybody’s toes, and I understand that just to have respect for PG, Kawhi, Russ, because they’ve been here. But we need James to be James, and so that’s on me to make sure I make him be James.»
Having not had a training camp or a preseason with the Clippers, Harden has not been able to find a rhythm yet. In four games, Harden is averaging 13.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
The Clippers (3-6) fell behind by 15 in the third quarter but came back and took a 95-93 lead with 3:09 left. They made their comeback largely with George, Westbrook, Norman Powell (20 points), Terance Mann and Leonard. Harden, who was a minus-28 for the game, checked back in with the Clippers trailing by 3 with 1:55 remaining and drilled a corner 3 to tie the game.
But Leonard, who didn’t score in the fourth, missed on a contested drive. Harden misfired on a corner 3 with 36.9 seconds remaining that could have tied the game again, and then Leonard missed an 11-foot fadeaway with 33.1 seconds left as Memphis (2-8) was able to seal the game from the line.
«Just figuring each other out,» Leonard said. «There’s no magic to it. Just trying to play, figure each other out.»
Harden said he understands what Lue wants from him.
«It’s to be more aggressive,» Harden said. «Not just shooting, but just attacking and getting into paint and making the right basketball plays.»
It doesn’t get any easier for Harden and the Clippers, who travel to Denver to face the defending champs and Nikola Jokic on Tuesday night.
«We all have been supportive and we absolutely want James to be himself,» George said. «I think when you make a trade like that, it is for James to come over and provide the same service he’s done his whole career. We know how good he is, we know how effective he is, and he brings a different dynamic with his ability to catch and shoot, play off the bounce, pick-and-roll, playmaking.
«We want James to be himself. James is used to having the ball and orchestrating offense and breaking offense down every possession. I’m sure it is tough when it’s not that every possession, and so he’s working through that. We’re all working through something, and we’re just trying to figure out how to be ourselves when those opportunities present themselves.»