With a shade over five minutes to play in a one possession ball game against the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton sent in Lonzo Ball to replace Jordan Clarkson in a move that went against the coach's consistent messaging about sticking with his best players late in games, regardless of whether they are part of his starting unit or bench unit.
In those final minutes, Ball committed a turnover, took an ill-advised shot from 26 feet and missed a late inconsequential three-pointer. Three points, seven assists, five rebounds and three turnovers with seven missed shots in eight attempts was another one of those forgettable nights for the 20-year-old, and his reintroduction had to be a tough pill to swallow for Clarkson considering his night.
The Lakers' sixth man hit eight of his 12 shots in 25 minutes and scored 17 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers' bench on Monday night. Clarkson was the Lakers' hottest player in the second half, scoring all 11 points after the intermission and hitting five of his six field goal attempts in the second stanza.
In addition, Clarkson had also been moving the basketball and collected five assists, to go along with eight rebounds. By all accounts, Clarkson was playing well. On a night where Ball clearly didn't have his rhythm, Clarkson seemed like the right player to leave in the game. But when the time game, Walton went with Ball anyway.
Clearly frustrated at his locker following the 120-115 defeat, Clarkson fielded an opening question that had to sting like antiseptic being poured over an open wound: "Where did this game get away?"
Clarkson responded, "Towards the end of the game, they just made plays. That's it. They scored the ball. We just couldn't get a stop."
Of course, Clarkson wasn't in the game at the end. He probably deserved to be, but he wasn't in. Instead, he watched from the bench as Lou Williams climbed up to 42 points, while the Lakers struggled to keep pace offensively. In his stead, Clarkson's replacement couldn't muster a single point.
When the cameras and majority of reporters went away, NBCLA.com pulled the guard aside and asked him what it felt like to watch from the sidelines on a night when he deserved to be on the floor in the deciding minutes.
"It tough as hell, to be honest with you," Clarkson said after a long pause and a deep sigh. "Because I'm a competitor like everybody else in this locker room. You want to be on the floor. It is what it is. I can't control nothing [sic] of what's going on. [Walton] put the guys, he thought, on the floor that are going to win the game for us."
Clarkson repeated, "It is what it is."
At age 25, Clarkson is far from an old veteran whose time has passed, even if he is tied with Julius Randle as the longest tenured Laker on the roster. The former Missouri Tiger, though, has had to sacrifice minutes on the court for the no. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. It's an odd but accepted reality that the fourth year professional has to sacrifice for the youth movement.
"It's been happening all year, so it ain't [sic] no surprise to me," Clarkson continued. "I'm just going out there, competing, trying to help my team win when I'm out there."
Far from looking to stir up controversy, Clarkson simply momentarily allowed his mouth to read out loud the frustration clearly written on his face.
Fair or not, Clarkson understands his current reality: "It is what it is."