Ivica Zubac's monster double-double leads short-handed Clippers past Pacers

Indiana Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson, left, has his shot blocked by Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Clippers center Ivica Zubac, who finished with 31 points and a career-best 29 rebounds, blocks a shot attempt by Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson on Sunday. It was one of Zubac's three blocks. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Ivica Zubac told himself earlier in the day that Sunday afternoon's meeting with the Indiana Pacers would be a big game.

"I gotta be aggressive," he recalled thinking. And the 7-foot center had that mentality from the start. “It helped," he said. "Good win for us. On to the next one.”

The Clippers, without Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Luke Kennard because of injuries, bested the Pacers 114-100 at Crypto.com Arena. The game was the Clippers’ to lose from the jump, even though the Pacers proved to be a tricky opponent in the first quarter, taking a lead of eight points.

The Pacers took just one more brief lead in the second quarter before the Clippers ran away with the game. But it was Zubac’s game of games — he finished with 31 points and a career-high 29 rebounds — that made it more than just the Clippers' 12th win of the season.

Zubac scored the first two points of the game and logged a career high for most points in a quarter with 14 in the first.

By the third quarter, he reached two more career highs in rebounds (19) and offensive rebounds (10). He would finish with 12 offensive rebounds. Then he became the first Clippers player since DeAndre Jordan to log at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game — Jordan accomplished the feat March 21, 2018, in Milwaukee.

At that point, Zubac's teammates were screaming for him to do what only a few NBA players have done: score at least 30 points and get at least 30 rebounds.

“I mean, we’re cheering for him,” forward Nicolas Batum said after the game. “When he had like over 22, 23 rebounds, we’re boxing out and screaming, ‘Go get it!’ … We’re all boxing out because we really want him to get the 30 rebounds.

“We had started getting a big lead, we were up 20, and we knew the game was pretty much [over],” Batum added. “So our goal was for him to get it. We all could see like on the side, like John [Wall] was looking for him, we’re all looking for Zu. We wanted Zu to get all the rebounds. We love playing for each other, and Zu is a big key for us.”

Zubac did not get the chance to get that 30th rebound. He was assessed his sixth personal foul with 3 minutes 40 seconds remaining in the game and sent to the bench.

“I was mad at myself because I wanted to get that 30 and 30 so bad and I just needed one rebound,” Zubac said with his face on his fists. “It hurts. I’m definitely not as happy as I should be. I was just mad at myself for getting that foul.

“First, I didn’t think it was a foul, so I was mad at that," he explained. “And then I was mad at myself for going for it. But I just, I can’t help myself. Every time I see someone trying to get a layup, I try to block it. That’s who I am.”

Zubac finished with three blocks and three assists.

His final box score still put him among elite company.

Zubac became just the third NBA player to log at least 31 points, 29 rebounds and three blocked shots in a game since blocked shots were first tracked during the 1973-74 season. The last player to do that? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the Lakers on Feb. 3, 1978, in New Jersey.

“I always wanted to get a 20 [-point], 20 [-rebound] game, and when I had a chance to get 30 and 30, I wanted to get it so bad,” Zubac said. “Still, it’s crazy to be mentioned with Kareem and guys like that in the same sentence. It’s incredible.”

Sunday’s game was the culmination of how he has played this season.

“Zu’s been good for us all year, and tonight it was great to see him rewarded with a big game like this,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “All the guys happy for him, hearing the fans chanting, ‘Zu.’ That’s a good feeling.”

Zubac said he knew around halftime that he was closing in on a 30-point, 30-rebound game.

“I just told myself I’m [going to] try to get every rebound possible,” he recalled.

And every rebound he grabbed, the bench and the home crowd cheered louder.

Though he did not get that 30-30 game, Zubac will get the opportunity again, at least according to Batum, who witnessed the last 30-30 game, accomplished by Dwight Howard when the two were teammates on the Charlotte Hornets in 2018.

“There’s gonna be a next time,” Batum said.

The Clippers head to Portland for the opener of their two-game trip. They will play the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

George (hamstring) and Kennard (calf), who missed their fourth and sixth consecutive games, respectively, will not travel with the team. Leonard (ankle) has not been ruled out for the two road games.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.