Joe Ingles was the difference in a must-win game for the Utah Jazz.
He carved up the Los Angeles Clippers for eight points, 11 assists, six rebounds, two steals, and a block in Utah’s Game 4 win on Sunday. Six of those points came in the final 3:24 of the fourth quarter, where Ingles nailed two triples to help extend a one-point Jazz lead to eight. He produced a stat line that would have impressed Draymond Green.
But Ingles could have been the difference for the Clippers instead of the Jazz.
After all, it was Doc Rivers who brought the Australian forward over after his final season with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2014. But it was also the Clippers president’s managerial whiff that cost him a talented player.
Back then, Ingles was competing against high-flying Jared Cunningham for the Clippers’ final roster spot. Neither had guaranteed contracts, but then, Jordan Farmar got hurt, and the Clippers needed to fill a void at their backup point guard. Ingles still had a chance to make the team, but Cunningham poured in 23 points in the preseason finale.
Rivers ruefully had to make the decision.
“I like him,” Rivers said after waiving Ingles in 2014, according to The Deseret News’ Jody Genessy. “We were definitely trying to find ways to keep him. I think he’s going to be a good player.
Ingles’ wife was on a plane from Australia to Los Angeles when the Clippers cut him in 2014. When she landed and got to the hotel, he told her, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, “Hey babe, don’t have a job. What do you want to do?”
Luckily, there was a plan B in the works.
Rivers cut Ingles with the hope that no other team would claim him off waivers. They thought they could sneak him through the league, Rivers admitted, by letting him go during a time few would see the transaction.
The only problem: The Jazz did.
Utah needed another wing at the time, and Jazz coach Quin Snyder understood Rivers’ situation. The Clippers wanted Ingles, but needed another point guard. That wasn’t Snyder’s problem, though. He just hit the jackpot.
“He’s a settling influence (with) his ability to pass the ball,” Snyder said when Utah signed Ingles three years ago, according to Genessy. “He’s obviously a good fit for our group.”
Fast forward a few years and Ingles has become a linchpin for the Jazz’s success.
The Australian forward became one of the NBA’s most dangerous distance shooter this season, nailing the three-ball at a league third-best 44.1 percent. Only Allen Crabbe (44.4 percent) and Kyle Korver (45.1 percent) played at least 65 games and shot the three better.
Ingles has come off the bench and been a steady presence for a Jazz team that thrives in its halfcourt offense. And against the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, Ingles is playing 34.5 minutes per game, a testament to his impact on a Utah team that’s enjoying its best season since the Jerry Sloan-Deron Williams era.
That’s a pretty good season for a guy who was beat out by Cunningham, who now plays for the Jiangsu Monkey King in China.
Worse, Ingles could have been Rivers’ answer at small forward
The Clippers have had a formula for relative success in the Doc Rivers era: Keep Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan together and make sure the moving parts all fit.
Their issue has always been at the small forward spot. The Clippers have had 13 different small forwards on the roster since the 2013-14 season. Some of those names include Danny Granger, Jared Dudley, Stephen Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Matt Barnes.
Today, they play the small forward by committee, with Luc Mbah a Moute starting and Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson, and Jamal Crawford sharing responsibility at the three.
Adding Ingles, a willing passer, deft decision-maker and dead-eye shooter, could have been the answer to the most pressing roster question of Rivers’ tenure. He had that answer, but chose to waive him and keep Cunningham.
“He’s just one of those guys. He’s a sunshine guy,” Rivers said of Ingles.
That sunshine may have helped lift the dark cloud wafting above a Clippers’ franchise yet to get past the second round of the playoffs in its soon-to-be 40-year history.
Luckily, Ingles has found a new home in Utah and the skies are clear. The Jazz have a promising young group mixed with proven veterans and two stars in Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert. And thanks to Clippers’ blunder years ago, it looks like the Australian forward will carve out a lengthy career with the Jazz.
That has to sting for Rivers.