- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't a pretty game but then again Reggie Evans isn't a pretty player. If the Los Angeles Clippers are to accomplish more than getting oversize paintings on buildings and cute nicknames this season, they will have to win more than a few games this way.
The Clippers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 92-86 Saturday night, but the biggest numbers of the night may have come from the player who had yet to play this season. Evans, who has been sidelined because of a sprained right foot since signing with the team on Dec. 21, stepped onto the court for the first time as a Clipper and had six rebounds, three points and one blocked shot in 18 minutes.
These were far from eye-popping numbers but much of his contribution went well beyond his meager stat line. He gave the Clippers a certain toughness and aggressiveness in the paint that was sorely missing from a team that came into the game ranked last in the league in rebounds per game and in the bottom five in points allowed per game.
Evans, a 6-foot-8 forward, has played for five teams since entering the league in 2002 as an undrafted free agent, beginning with the now defunct Seattle SuperSonics. He may be best remembered as the man who grabbed former Clippers center Chris Kaman's, um, groin during the 2006 playoffs when the Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets for their first and only playoff series win since 1976 when they were the Buffalo Braves.
If Evans can provide the Clippers with the toughness and depth they've been missing on the frontline, he may be the final piece on a team that hopes to win more than one playoff series this season.
"He's a monster out there," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. "I call him our defensive gargoyle. He's strong and he's out there taking up space. He's intimidating. He intimidates me and he's on my team."
Evans, who averaged 11.5 rebounds in 30 games with the Toronto Raptors last season, isn't a game-changer. He's simply the kind of role player off the bench all contending teams need. He'll be the first to admit he has no illusions of grandeur when he steps onto the court and the first to agree with Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro's assessment that his understanding of the Clippers' playbook is still minimal at best.
"At the end of the day I ain't trying to score the ball," Evans said. "How much offense do I really need to know besides setting a pick or whatever? My job is real simple on the offensive end."
Evans says he knows his role and plays it better than many on a team filled with players still trying to feel their way through their new roles.
As soon as Evans checked into the game with 2:56 left in the first quarter, he was an instant bundle of energy for a lethargic team in need of a quick pick-me-up. He grabbed four rebounds off the first six missed shots and claimed five rebounds inside of his first five minutes on the court. Evans eyes widened with every ball ricocheting off the backboard as he muscled his way to grab the ball at its highest point like a receiver in the end zone.
"I can't out-jump a lot of these guys," Evans said. "They're more athletic than me and taller than me. I'm real undersized for my position. You look at Blake and [DeAndre Jordan]; they're taller than me and can jump higher than me, but I have to find other ways to get the job done. A lot of the guys don't have what I have and that is heart. You can't teach that. You have to have that and grow up with that. It has to come from within. I have a lot of heart and a lot of pride."
There is no question the duo of Griffin and Clippers guard Chris Paul is the biggest reason why the Clippers sold out their fourth game of the season Saturday night and had four photo shoots for four magazines taking place on every corner of their practice court Friday. But if the Clippers are going to make a long run in the playoffs they're going to need little-known players like Evans to contribute off the bench in a big way.
As well as Evans played when he was on the court, his biggest problem is the same problem all of the Clippers' big men have -- he's not very good at free throws. On Saturday night Evans was 1-for-6 from the free-throw line, while the Clippers as a team were 26-for-40. Those kinds of numbers could prove to be the demise of the Clippers down the stretch as they will likely have to play either Jordan or Evans late in games. Both players are a combined 18-for-42 from the line this season.
"It's not simple at all," Evans said with a smile when asked about his free-throw shooting. "The big men have so many things going through their mind. It's all about staying focused. As a big man, you just want to knock it down and move on."
The Clippers will gladly move on with a healthy Evans in the fold and the best record in the Pacific Division after six games, and worry about their ongoing free-throw woes when they return to practice Monday.
"You have to win games like this because when it's all said and done, it's not about the stats," Paul said. "[Reggie's] energy and his emotion is something that we need. The intensity that he plays with is contagious and we're going to need him all season long."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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