Image of Cole Aldrich.

Rivers Credits Aldrich For Bench’s Take Off

LOS ANGELES – The second Doc Rivers started giving regular minutes to center Cole Aldrich, the Clippers’ head coach could see a difference in the second unit.

Not that Aldrich is the type to gloat about it.

“For me, I’ve been in that position before,” Aldrich said. “I understood what I needed to do, which is go in and get your work done and stay ready. The season is so long that your opportunity will come at some point. It’s just being ready when that opportunity comes.”

And, Aldrich was more than ready.

After playing a total of 11 minutes in November and not playing at all the first nine games of December, Rivers gave Aldrich six minutes of action toward the end of a loss against the Rockets, and Aldrich delivered with a rebound for each minute he played.

The next game, a near win against Oklahoma City on Dec. 21, Rivers upped Aldrich’s minutes to 14, and the center, out of the rotation until that point, responded with five points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks, including an emphatic swat on Russell Westbrook.

He’s been a regular in the rotation ever since.

“When we made the switch to him is when I thought our bench took off,” Rivers said. “Our bench had been pretty much up and down – more down the first three or four weeks – and you can almost circle back, the day we put Cole in the lineup is when we changed as a group.”

That’s a testament to Aldrich’s consistency. Aldrich has averaged double digit minutes every month since December and has played in every game since Dec. 19.

He’s sprinkled in standout performances throughout, including a night with 13 points, six rebounds and four steals in just 20 minutes in late December, just four games after joining the rotation. When DeAndre Jordan missed two games a month later, Aldrich was there to fill in with 19 points in each.

But more importantly, after Jordan returned, Aldrich didn’t sulk as he went back to his normal role off the bench. He’s perfectly content with whatever he’s asked for on a given night, and it’s that attitude and stability the Clippers appreciate even more than the breakout games, none more impressive than his 21 points and 18 rebounds this week in Utah.

Bench units can be volatile and fickle, and the Clippers’ backup units in recent seasons were no exception. Aldrich is there to change that.

“The big thing for me is make the rollercoaster not so steep,” Aldrich said.

If he plays great, he says he doesn’t get too high. If he plays poorly, he says he doesn’t get too low.

After his career night in Utah, he was clearly excited, but he didn’t gloat. He stayed completely levelheaded at his locker afterward. Talking to him, he could’ve just as easily scored five points and five rebounds, if not for all the praise he was getting from teammates and coaches who walked by.

“He’s a guy that just does it,” Rivers said. “He doesn’t make a big deal about it.”

What Aldrich prides himself on is accountability. If the Clippers need him to start, he’s ready. If the Clippers only want eight minutes from him, he’ll try to make those eight minutes as useful as possible.

After an up and down start to the year for the bench and trades throughout the year, it’s the exact type of impact Rivers wanted and the Clippers needed. That composure is why he’s been able to play as few as 10 minutes and as many as 40 minutes in games thus far in April – and succeed in both roles.

“The season is long,” Aldrich said, “and you’ve just got to stick with it.”

Speaking of sticks, looking at Aldrich, Rivers joked the native Minnesotan might look more like a hockey player than a basketball player. In the locker room before Sunday’s game, the remnants of a black eye from days prior still showed.

So, too, did cuts and bruises all over his body. And, of course, there’s the tooth he’s been missing for years. Through every welt and contusion, Aldrich still hasn’t missed a game since joining the rotation late in December, and that's been crucial as the lone big playing regular minutes off the bench.

The Clippers know they can trust Aldrich as a stabilizing force, whether he’s scoring two points or 20, or playing two minutes or 20.

“For me, it’s just coming in and just doing my job, finding a way, whatever we can do to get a win,” Aldrich said. “Sometimes, you walk out with bruises and scars and a missing tooth. It’s just all part of it.”

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