LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Los Angeles Clippers were minutes away from winning their opening scrimmage of the NBA restart against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sat on the bench as onlookers after subbing out for the afternoon.
Reserve guard Rodney McGruder drove to the basket aggressively and converted a difficult layup while drawing the foul with 2:09 left in the scrimmage. The Clippers’ bench erupted. Players stood up and forcefully exulted, sending echoes through the building.
That was the loudest point of the game.
With no fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the scrimmage provided a glimpse into how players may need to adjust to the empty seats to avoid long periods of awkward silence.
“We talked about [bringing] that energy coming in,” Magic coach Steve Clifford told Yahoo Sports. “That’s why these three scrimmages are important so you can become more comfortable without having 16,000, 17,000 people there and that’s going to be part of it for every team.”
NBA players aren’t the most vivacious, energetic athletes when it comes to showing support. They’re trained to stay even keel because it’s an 82-game season. High school and particularly college is where you’ll often find passionate players locking arms and chanting while on the bench to instill life into their team.
During trips to the free-throw line on Wednesday, there was very little, if any, clapping after a teammate made a shot. This was repeated numerous times from both teams throughout the game.
For context, it was a scrimmage, but it is a typical free-throw reaction from a lot of players during the regular season. The lack of enthusiasm isn’t magnified because usually, it’s the fans cheering and applauding made free throws.
“Will we have to be louder? Maybe so,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told Yahoo Sports after the Clippers’ 99-90 victory. “Without fans, we have to be more vocal and encouraging. But I’ve always liked how our guys cheer on their teammates. This is a different atmosphere, so we may have to do things a little differently. But our guys do a great job at supporting one another.”
There are disengaged players who rarely play and sulk at the end of the bench. This fan-less atmosphere won’t display them in the most positive light.
“I don’t know if it’s specifically clapping that we need to do during free throws, but I definitely think the encouragement part, the positivity from teammate to teammate is important in our league,” Magic coach Steve Clifford told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t think that they’re always as demonstrative, but I do think all of that leads to spirit and togetherness and it will be important for every team going forward.”
It was a pretty clean scrimmage, with no F-bombs or other profanities used, which the league has to be thrilled about when it comes to television networks picking up arena sounds. You could hear players communicating and discussing strategy, which is a perk hidden in sold-out arenas.
Clifford unacknowledged it might be an adjustment for players without fans, but he wanted to make sure he emphasized that their actions during games have nothing to do with lack of passion.
“I will say this, I think this is what people don’t understand about the NBA when people say the players don’t care. Well, they’re here because they care,” Clifford told Yahoo Sports. “They’re the hardest workers, they care the most, they’re the college guys that made it because of the right reasons and that’s what the NBA players don’t get credit for.”
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