Basketball

Clippers vs Jazz: Round 2 Series Preview

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A roller-coaster ride of a first-round series saw the Clippers come out on top of the Dallas Mavericks for the second straight season, opening the door for a heavyweight Clippers vs Jazz matchup. The #1-seeded Jazz took care of business in short order in their first-round series against the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies, completing a gentlemen’s sweep by ending the series in five games.

The Clippers on the other hand, in the most dramatic fashion possible, took the Mavericks to seven games before finally winning their series. For the first time in NBA history, the road team won each of the first six games in this Clippers vs Mavs series before the Clippers ultimately took Game 7 on their home court. Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard put on a show for the ages, each with multiple 40+ point performances and clutch plays.

Clippers vs Jazz: Regular Season

During the regular season, the Clippers vs Jazz matchup happened 3 times, twice in Los Angeles and once in Utah. The Jazz defended their homecourt and split the road series with the Clippers, earning themselves a 2-1 regular-season victory.

Through the three games played, a few key Jazz contributors struggled to score against the stellar Clippers’ defense.

Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell played, and started, in all three games against the Clippers, averaging 24.7 PPG compared to his 26.4 PPG season average. He shot nearly a full percentage point worse from the field and over 5% worse from 3-point range. While these two stats can be chalked up to the Clippers’ defense, the fact that Mitchell shot 68.8% on FT attempts compared to his 84.5% season average does little to comfort the Clipper faithful. Had Mitchell shot his season average, he would’ve more than likely exceeded his season PPG average while playing the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert

Rudy Gobert, like Mitchell, appeared in the starting lineup for all three bouts of Clippers vs Jazz. He hit his season PPG average on the dot with 14.3 PPG while averaging 14.7 RPG against the Clippers compared to his 13.5 RPG season average. Also like Mitchell, Gobert struggled mightily from the field. He shot nearly 9% worse on FG attempts but made up for it with 75% FT shooting (averaged 62.3% FT in the regular season).

Perhaps the most encouraging stat disparity between Gobert’s regular season and his appearances against the Clippers is his drop in blocks per game. He was among the league leaders in BPG with 2.7 on the season but averaged only 1.7 BPG against the Clippers. In a stat category where 2.7 leads the league, a drop of 1.0 per game is monumental. If the Clippers keep attacking Gobert the way they did Boban Marjanovic in the first round, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his defensive prowess mitigated by foul trouble, kick-out opportunities, or Kawhi and Paul George finishing through contact.

Team Struggles

As a team, Utah shot 45.4% FG against the Clippers compared to 46.8% on the season, a minimal difference of 1.4%. They also shot 4.4% worse from behind the arc, a notable difference for one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the NBA this season. Clearly, the Clippers defense had some affect on Utah’s stars, but the Jazz were not the only team who struggled in this matchup.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard both shot considerably worse from the field and from behind the arc when playing against the Jazz compared to their regular season averages. Their percentage drop offs included: George falling from 47% to 33% FG and 41% to 35% 3P while Leonard fell from 51% to 42% FG and 40% to 25% 3P. All four are considerable decreases worthy of keeping an eye on throughout the series.

Clippers vs Jazz: Playoff Rotation Adjustments

No More Luka

Make no mistake, Donovan Mitchell has quickly become a perennial All-Star and one of the best young guards in the NBA… but he’s not Luka Doncic. The Clippers may have faced the toughest single-player attack they’ll see in the entire playoffs already in the first round. That isn’t to say Luka is the best player in the league, but he might have the highest usage rate + production combination of any single player by the time the playoffs end.

Fortunately for the Clippers, Mitchell is also a considerable amount smaller than Doncic, making it a viable option to put Patrick Beverley back in the rotation to help on the defensive side of the ball. Doncic was able to use his size and strength advantage to get into the paint against Patrick Beverley, and while Mitchell can also handle the rock with the best of them, he’ll have to find something other than strength to rely on when facing Beverley.

Along with Beverley, the Clippers have an abundance of length at the guard and wing positions to throw at Mitchell and the current 6th Man of the Year, Jordan Clarkson. Along with the other-worldly defense of Kawhi, Paul George starts at the shooting guard position, Terance Mann provided huge minutes in the Dallas series, Rajon Rondo is a long and smart defensive guard, and Nicolas Batum can essentially hold his own against anyone from point guards to centers for short stints.

Questions Around the Center Rotation

Speaking of the center position, Rudy Gobert provides a whole new set of problems for the Clippers. They were able to rebound as a team enough to mitigate Dallas’s ultra-huge lineup consisting of Luka (6-8), Tim Hardaway Jr (6-5), Dorian Finney-Smith (6-7), Kristaps Porzingis (7-3, and Boban (7-4). With Utah’s power forward rotation consisting mainly of Royce O’Neale (6-4), Bojan Bogdanovic (6-7), Joe Ingles (6-8), and Georges Niang (6-7), I have confidence that the Clippers can overcome the size disparity on the boards.

The bigger problem lies in Gobert’s ability to impact the game in the paint on both ends of the court aside from just rebounding. Mitchell and Ingles are both capable, crafty passers that suit Gobert’s rim-running game style perfectly. The big man does not have an abundance of post moves, but he doesn’t necessarily need them in today’s NBA. He sets good screens and makes himself available in the paint, especially against smaller lineups like the one the Clippers fell in love with against the Mavs where Marcus Morris and Nicolas Batum were playing power forward and center respectively.

This brings me to one of my biggest question marks for this series: what will the big-man rotation look like for the Clippers? In short, I don’t think it will change much from Round 1. Ivica Zubac will get more minutes overall, but unless Serge Ibaka has shown considerable improvement over the last week and a half, I foresee Batum and Morris drawing the assignment to check Gobert for extended stretches in this series. This small-ball lineup actually saw a decent amount of success against the Jazz during the regular season.

However, I could be totally off base. Zubac will likely start regardless, but will Ibaka come back healthy? Could Gobert’s sheer size force us to play other additional bigs like Patrick Patterson or DeMarcus Cousins rather than sticking with our lethal small-ball unit? It’s absolutely possible.

Even more concerning than his offense is Gobert’s defensive prowess. George and Leonard are among the best in the league at getting to the rim, but even they cannot expect to consistently finish over or around Gobert at the rim. He’s too good defensively. Instead, they should find plenty of opportunities to penetrate and find their big man, cutters, or open shooters. This game plan sounds good in theory, but it also means that the Clippers’ role players have to step up and knock down shots.

If the Clippers shoot anywhere near the way they did in Game 7 versus Dallas, there shouldn’t be many problems this team can’t overcome.

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