Ivica Zubac is key to the Clippers' rise.

One tall individual joined a half-dozen media members near Ivica Zubac's locker late Monday night, pointing his phone's camera at the Clippers center.

Zubac's backup, Daniel Theis, grinned and left. The joke concealed the fact that Zubac has only been in the limelight in his eighth season and sixth with the Clippers.

Zubac scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a 138-111 win against Phoenix at Crypto.com Arena, one night after scoring 22 and grabbing 19 in a defeat to the Lakers. 

 The longest-tenured Clipper isn't the focus in a locker room dominated by four future Hall of Fame teammates, but a career-high 65.6% shooting, career-bests in rebounds (9.7), assists (1.3), and blocks (1.4), and a growing pick-and-roll chemistry with point guard James Harden have made Zubac pivotal to the Clippers' 23-13 start. Zubac stated, “I've always been confident, but right now it's at a high level.”

So is the team's trust in the 26-year-old. After the Suns replaced center Jusuf Nurkic with all wings midway through the third quarter, Tyronn Lue kept Zubac in for six minutes. In the quarter's dying seconds, Zubac walked to the bench with the Clippers up 11 after the Suns went small.

It was like coaching chicken, Lue and Frank Vogel waiting to see who would adapt first. Previously, Lue might have substituted Zubac, who rarely had a defensive assignment, but now he claimed playing their big man had benefits.

“We just thought him around the basket was tough,” Lue said. “We could throw it up to him, post him, offensive rebounds, and I thought keeping him on the floor would be better defensively. We can post Zu and go on the glass offensively if he sets pick and rolls and they switch. It worked for us.”

Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal were not enough to stop all five Clippers starters from scoring in double digits, paced by Paul George's 25 points and seven rebounds. Kawhi Leonard scored 17 points. Terance Mann made 10 of his last 18 three-pointers after a slow start, and Harden scored 19 points with 10 assists and seven rebounds.