Clippers Reoccurring Injuries
After a gritty Game 1 victory in which Kristaps Porzingis was ejected for picking up two technicals, the Clippers would be without a starter of their own in Game 2. Patrick Beverley was labeled Out for the second game of the series with a calf strain. This is the same injury that has now sidelined Beverley in six of LA’s last seven games. Injuries are never a good excuse for teams this late in the season because most players are banged up in some way by now. The Clippers are fortunate to even have their full roster with them in the bubble considering most teams are missing at least one player.
However, Beverley’s absence was felt. Drastically. Reggie Jackson was considered a fantastic acquisition late in the season, and he has definitely had his moments, but he’s no Pat Bev. On either side of the ball. Offensively he seemed to assert himself more than necessary at times. When sharing the court with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and even Marcus Morris, it’s not ideal for the Clippers to watch Jackson bring the ball up the court, wave off a few options, and then pull a contested three with 15+ seconds left on the shot clock. He can get that shot whenever he wants. The team looks best when the offense is in motion and the play runs through one of the two stars in some capacity.
Defensively it’s not hard to explain the difference between Mr. 94 Feet, Patrick Beverley, and a guard known only for his offensive spurts. Jackson played hard and did not miss assignments, but asking him to check the much larger Luka Doncic or even Tim Hardaway Jr. is a tall task. He finished the game with four fouls and not telling how many points allowed in the paint. Jackson is a generally a smart player and an excellent back up guard, but when playing against the highest rated offense of all time, his struggles were visible.
Doc Rivers is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and rightfully so. His resume is easily among the Top 2-3 active coaches, and lands impressively high in the all-time ranks.
But it’s not showing in this series.
It’s not hard to figure out that the two best two-way players in the league need to play as much as possible, that much Doc has figured out. Kawhi scored 35 points in his 41 minutes of action despite shooting only 2/6 from distance. Paul George on the other hand picked up three quick fouls in the first half that resulted in him watching from the sidelines until after halftime. This might be part of the reason he was so off his game. He shot 4/17 from the field, including 2/10 from deep, in route to only 14 points in 32 minutes of action. Seeing how well PG has shot the ball in Orlando, it’s hard to imagine this will turn into a slump so long as he can play smarter and finds his rhythm earlier.
The star duo played as often as foul trouble allowed, as it should be. It’s the bench that became an issue in this game. Lou Williams played 32 minutes and scored 23 points on 62% shooting. This a fantastic offensive statline for the multi-time 6th MOY. The issue comes on the other side of the ball. Usually, Lou puts up these types of stats while playing alongside defensive specialist, Patrick Beverley. Instead, he shared most of his minutes with fellow offensive minded guard, Reggie Jackson. Of course, it’s not anyone’s fault that Bev was unavailable to play, but Lou+Reggie simultaneous playing time is worth keeping an eye on. Needless to say, Luka had a field day against the lesser defenders while they were in the game.
Now comes the real issue. Again, Doc didn’t have a lot of defensive options with Beverley out of the fold, but he did have options in the front court. The Mavericks have one of the tallest front courts in the playoffs with the likes of Porzingis (7’3), Boban Marjanovic (7’4), and Maxi Kleber (6’10). The Clippers have played undersized lineups all season, and had great success in doing so. Montrezl Harrell (6’8) plays much bigger than his listed height thanks to his incredible strength and wingspan. Against most back up centers, he’s too much to handle.
Against Dallas however, the tables were turned. The Mavs’ backup center is Boban, a much-improved giant of a man with soft touch around the rim and a respectable jump shot. He basically dominated Harrell during their head-to-head minutes. Harrell made only three shots and finished with 10 points on 4/10 FT shooting. Towards the end of the game, Doc decided to pull the struggling Harrell. Smart, right? The team needed more defense against the larger matchup.
Except he didn’t insert the true center that dominated the Mavericks in Game 1. No, Ivica Zubac stayed on the bench. Instead, Rivers went with a late game lineup of Jackson, Williams, George, Leonard, and Morris. This is an incredibly deadly offensive lineup, but somehow Doc was still shocked that his squad failed to get defensive stops.
He had Zubac at his disposal.
He had JaMychal Green.
Even newly acquired Joakim Noah is literally on the roster for two reasons: veteran presence and spot defense against bigger centers.
Nope. We went with Mook at the five. Disappointing.
Clippers Road Ahead
The Clippers play the Mavericks again Friday night at 9:00 pm ET, same as the first two games. This is a pivotal Game 3 that already feels like an absolute must win. The bubble atmosphere has all but taken away home court advantage, so the Clippers are on their own when it comes to setting the intensity and pace of the game. They’ll need to make some adjustments if they want to keep their championship aspirations alive.
Set the Tone
Hopefully Patrick Beverley will be available for Game 3. His presence instantaneously sets the tone on both sides of the ball. Though the stat sheet does not always reflect his impact, the bottom line usually does. Again, I don’t know that his presence would have equaled a win in Game 2, but I know he impacts every aspect of the game when he’s available.
Luka Doncic is already on record breaking pace, and throwing two small, offensive minded guards at him is not doing the Clippers any favors. I’m not sure if the Clippers are trying to rest Kawhi and PG on the defensive end of the court, or if Doc genuinely feels they play better off-ball defense. Regardless, it’s time to step up. I understand the Clippers ultimate goal is to end their season in October, but if the defensive stars don’t wake up soon it’s going to end in August.
I’m as big of a Montrezl Harrell fan as you’ll find, but this is a poor matchup for the undersized big. He needs to see the court, but we have to respond to the overwhelming size of the Mavericks sooner or later. Zubac played only 18 minutes in Game 2 despite being the best matchup for Boban. Doc Rivers has inexplicably refused to play Zubac in the 4th quarter of games all season, and Clipper fans are growing tired of it. “Fire Doc” chants are a little extreme, but his rotations can be head scratching at times to say the least.
If the title favorites are going to survive Round 1, it’s time to adapt. Fast.