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Clippers: Three Adjustments to Close Series Quickly

Photo: USA Today

Clippers vs Nuggets: Series Recap

Game 1

The Clippers showed their potential in Game 1 of the series against Denver, blowing the opposition out of the water. Five different players scored double digit points, led by reigning Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard. Eight different players shot 50% or better from the field. This doesn’t even account for Paul George and Montrezl Harrell who shot 46.2% and 45.5% respectively. Neither awful shooting nights. This game was an outlier shooting performance for the team as a whole and did not allow much clarity on adjustments that need to be made moving forward.

Game 2

Game 2 however played out closer to what fans should expect from this series. Denver did not accidentally get the 3 seed in a loaded Western Conference. They are a good team with a Top 10 player, rising star, and formidable role players. The Nuggets jumped out to a 44-25 lead after only one quarter. Though they lost each of the next three quarters, they managed to never give up their lead for even a second. Nikola Jokic shot 58.8% from the field (80.0% from 3PT) en route to a 26 pts, 18 reb, 4 ast performance. The only blemish on his performance comes from his six total turnovers, five of which happened in the 2nd Half.

These turnovers also came during the same time the Clippers made their biggest run of the game.

Interesting.

Game 3

Game 3 was closely contested from start to finish. The Nuggets led by as many as 12 points in the 2nd quarter, once again led by their All Star big man. He posted 32 pts, 12 reb, and 8 ast. However, he once again accounted for an alarming 7 turnovers. Four of these came in the 2nd quarter, allowing the Clippers to cut the deficit from 12 down to 2 before halftime.

Interesting.

Clippers Adjustments

Clippers Guard Rotation

In Game 3, the Clippers were once again forced to mount a 2nd Half come back after falling behind early. One factor that aided the comeback effort was the adjustment in the guard rotation from Doc Rivers. Now, I know not all the blame can fall on Doc due to Beverley’s injury, but it was encouraging to see the move he made in the second half of Game 3: Reggie Jackson did not play at all, totaling only five minutes on the night.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. Reggie Jackson is a good player and a fantastic back up, offensive minded point guard. The issue arises on the defensive end. Typically, Jackson has been able to hold his own enough to stay on the court, but when his backcourt running mate is Lou Williams, it’s next to impossible to contain opposing guards. At one point in Game 3, the Clippers were forced to run a lineup of Jackson, Williams, and Landry Shamet while Paul George and Montrezl Harrell filled out the 4 and 5. This lineup was a disaster both on defense and the boards.

If a better matchup presents itself in the playoffs, I would love to see Jackson supply his talents. But in this series, it looks like the most efficient option is to shorten the guard rotation to Williams and Shamet after Beverley and George.

Force Jokic to Pass

This might seem like a bad idea considering Jokic is arguably the best passing big man in NBA history, but hear me out. Jokic is a fantastic passer when running the offense from the top of the key or from the post. He’s shown his incredible vision time and time again. However, the Clippers have flashed a defensive scheme at Jokic that seems to bother him: sending a double team. Jokic is such a good passer, that he often sees plays before they’re happening. On a few occasions, this has actual served in the Clippers favor. Here’s why.

When one Clipper runs at Jokic for a double team, the Clippers generally field enough quickness to rotate at lightening speeds. By the time Jokic has found the open man and begun the pass, a second Clipper has already rotated. They move to a position where they can intercept the pass, or quickly contest a shot. Now Jokic has to rethink while already in his passing motion. This disruption and confusion have led to live-ball steals or errant passes flying out of bounds.

This scheme also forces Denver’s role players to earn their points rather than allowing Jokic or Jamal Murray to feast in one-on-one situations. If the Clippers lose to Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap hitting chaotic, contested threes, well, there’s not much else you can do about that.

Force Jokic to Defend

This goes back to decreasing Jokic’s impact on the game. He’s an incredible player, but agile and athletic are not words one might use to describe his game. He’s capable of being a big body on the defensive end, but when forced to step outside the paint, it’s not hard to find scoring or passing lanes around him. Ivica Zubac and Harrell are tremendous pick and roll centers. Both have the ability to finish around the rim or find open shooters in the corners. Rolling to the rim is arguably both of their best traits offensively. Utilizing this skill when being guarded by Jokic should open up options for literally every player on the court. The Clippers never play anyone 1-4 that can’t shoot the ball. Even when JaMychal Green plays the five, the pick and pop works well against an immobile center like Jokic.

Making Jokic move his feet defensively will also take a toll on other aspects of his game. At 7’0, 284 lbs, Jokic gets visibly tired on occasion. He’s learned how to manage himself and stay in games, but it’s reasonable to think the Clippers can pick on him enough defensively to tire him out faster.

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