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Terance Mann embodies Clippers’ fighting spirit in playoffs

Terance Mann embodies Clippers fighting spirit in playoffs
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In a playoff game dominated by superstars, it was a second-round pick who made play after play Friday during three critical minutes of the third quarter.

Clippers wing Terance Mann tracked Dallas’ Luka Doncic into the paint before leaping to swat the shot. Then he did it again, this time on a drive by Josh Richardson. Pushed in the neck by Willie Cauley-Stein, Mann ran after the opposing center, then drove into the paint on the very next possession and lofted a floater that bounced off the back of the rim before falling in. He yelled as he jogged back on defense.

This was new — Mann’s first postseason game in front of a nearly full, hostile road arena.

It was also familiar — Mann scrapping against a Mavericks team he first traded words with during a preseason game as a rookie, an indication of the fire that has helped turn the 6-foot-5, second-year pro into an indispensable piece of the Clippers’ rotation during a breakout second season.

“He’s not afraid of the moment,” said teammate Kawhi Leonard.

This season would seem to be one to savor for Mann, a former 48th overall pick who entered the NBA in 2019 without a true position and with little guarantee he could find a foothold. His minutes have nearly quadrupled from his rookie season, and his shooting accuracy — a knock on him at Florida State — rose by 6 percentage points from deep. During many defining moments, such as the Game 3 victory that saw the Clippers cut their series deficit to 2-1 ahead of Sunday’s Game 4, Mann was trusted to be on the court.

Yet Mann has felt little desire to reflect on his professional success because of personal losses he has carried for the past year, after the deaths of three friends, including two within the last five weeks.

“It’s definitely not an easy thing,” Mann said earlier this month. “I don’t really think about what I did this year when I’m at home or stuff like that. Or, when people say I’ve had a successful run at it this year or whatever, I don’t really think about that because of what’s going on at home.”

Michael Ojo, a teammate at Florida State, died Aug. 7 during a workout in Serbia, where he had played for three seasons.

Terrence Clarke, the 19-year-old Kentucky guard who had looked up to Mann since they rose through Boston’s youth ranks, died April 22 in a car accident in Los Angeles, having visited Mann only days earlier.

While still processing Clarke’s death, Mann learned on May 6 that Xavier Salaman, a close childhood friend, had died in their hometown of Lowell, Mass.

“It definitely takes a toll,” Mann said. “I haven’t had to deal with this type of stuff until recently so this is really my first time going through it and it’s just, when it rains it pours.”

Mann missed the Clippers’ game in Houston on May 14 to attend a memorial for Salaman, but could not stay long; a chartered flight waited to return him for the regular-season finale in Oklahoma City.

Highlights of the Clippers’ 118-108 victory over the Mavericks on May 28, 2021, in Dallas.

“He’s always supported,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the biggest thing from a team, from the coaching staff, from the organization, and you know that’s what we want to do while he’s going through that.”

Mann is only 24 but carries himself “very much older than his age, and very mature as a player,” Lue said. It can be seen in his decision to fill the space between his left wrist and elbow with a dozen or so tattoos sitting at odd angles, in different sizes, but telling one story of the influences who left a permanent impression on him.

By his wrist are the names of his mother and father, and the flag of St. Lucia, the island where his family traces its heritage. He has the name of one brother, the birthday of another, and a grandmother’s initials, topped by a crown. An angel’s wing remembers a late grandfather, great-grandfather and aunt.

His most recent tattoo — the Mamba logo of Kobe Bryant, his favorite player, and 978, the area code of Lowell — blends with his oldest, a piece he and a small group of friends received together when he was a junior at Florida State: a rose, together with the initials NLMB, for “never leave my brothers.”

“Everybody has a lot of love for each other within the family and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be in position that I am in,” he said. “So, just felt like I had to do it — I wanted to do it.”

Ojo, Clarke and Salaman became part of that extended family when entering Mann’s life at different points. After meeting Salaman in sixth grade in Lowell, they were virtually inseparable for the next two years. They lived on the same block and often wore the same clothes.

“We were basically brothers,” Mann said.

As Mann grew into a Division I recruit with the Boston Amateur Basketball Club, Clarke, who played on one of the club’s youth teams, would watch the older Mann from the sideline. Mann said that Clarke’s father once told him that because they had the same first name, “make sure you take care of him.”

It was why Mann sent Clarke reminders this winter to be a good teammate and stay focused as injuries led to a frustrating freshman year at Kentucky. When Clarke arrived in Los Angeles in April to train for the NBA draft, he messaged Mann constantly to reunite. They connected late in the month at Mann’s apartment after the Clippers returned from a road trip, their talk focusing on the future.

“He was always a joy to be around,” Mann said. “He stopped by and we hung out for a little, and he was just telling me that he wanted to prove people wrong with this draft coming up. A lot of people didn’t believe in him because of the year he had at Kentucky and I was just telling him, ‘You know, you’re ready for this, you’re built for this.’”

At Florida State, Ojo and Mann could appear as opposites. Ojo a big man with bulging muscles who arrived from Nigeria lacking polish on his game, Mann a lithe wing from a basketball family. But both carried an unusual amount of humility and desire to play a team-first style.

The 7-foot-1 Ojo was “a voice of maturity and reason in the locker room,” said Charlton Young, a Seminoles assistant. “The guys knew, [Ojo] had no selfish bones in his body. All he wanted to do was win.”

Mann’s teammates described him similarly in the wake of Game 3, his 19 minutes a display of tunnel-vision focus and the hallmarks of a gritty style about which his coaches and teammates often rave.

It belied the way his attention has been pulled in recent weeks, far away from basketball.

Clippers-Mavericks first-round playoff schedule.

(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this season, as Mann considered expanding his tattoos to a full sleeve, he thought of adding the No. 14 jersey his mother wore at Georgetown, and the face of a grandmother.

By next season, he said, those designs will be joined by three others to remember the friends with whom he wishes he could share his success.

“I’m definitely going to get those guys on me somewhere,” Mann said.





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