SALT LAKE CITY – Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue said what everyone already knows on Monday.
“We’re going to have to go small,” Lue said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on the floor (for Jazz).”
The Clippers seemed reluctant to adopt a non-important roster during the regular season – everything changed in the playoffs. The training of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr, Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum led to LA victory in the first round of the series.
So expect the same to be true against the Jazz when the Western Conference semi-finals begin at 8 p.m. MT on Tuesday.
But while the Clippers didn’t show it much during the regular season (it’s not uncommon for coaches to save things for the playoffs), LA cared enough about a February 19 clash against the Jazz that Lue rolled it out in the fourth quarter.
The result? The Clippers built a 13-point lead.
Here are two open-ended 3-pointers from this game that will demonstrate how difficult it can be to deal with a five-out attack featuring Leonard and George.
Game 1: Leonard walks around Royce O’Neale in the paint, forcing Rudy Gobert to slide down to stop a sure shot at the rim. But that leaves Patrick Beverly open in the corner. He missed the 3 but Beverly is shooting 43% out of 3 this season – it’s not a shot the Jazz want to give up.
Game 2: This time, it’s George who arrives. Bojan Bogdanovic does a good job walking past George to keep him from reaching the hoop. Gobert probably doesn’t need to come down this time around with the smarter game remaining on Beverly. But will Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Georges Niang and even O’Neale be able to systematically prevent the Clippers from reaching the rim without the imminent threat of Gobert? You’re going to have to give up something against this team. What shots does Jazz allow most comfortably?
“There are some things we got away with in the first set and we’re not going to be able to get by defensively with this series,” said Donovan Mitchell. “So understand that we have to be on point, every minute of the game, every minute of the series.”
However, all is not gloomy for Jazz.
The usual thought that regular season games don’t translate into the playoffs doesn’t seem to apply here – at least as far as the long fourth-quarter streak the Clippers played this little squad. Jazz coach Quin Snyder is revered in the league for his X’s and O’s, and here he has more than a half-quarter of a match movie in one of the most playoff regular season games of the year. Utah to build a game plan.
And it’s not like he’s starting from a point without success. Here’s what good rotations and quick decisions can force.
See how many moving parts have gone into this unique defensive game. Mitchell stays in front of George. Gobert comes down to block any potential shot. Bogdanovic rotates to win the 3. Mike Conley slips between two players so he can challenge whoever the swing pass came from, then cuts the pass in the corner. Gobert turns around the corner. All of this forced a mid-range shot from Morris.
But look at the end: Gobert slips to help Beverly glide to the wing, positioning herself for another open 3 catch-and-shoot. Morris missed it (and the shot clock was dropping), but the Clippers could probably have it. had an open 3 at the end of the stopwatch even after the Jazz had done all that. This is what Utah has to be ready for in this series.
“I mean, we’ve seen these clashes before, also against Memphis for a while, so it’s not something we haven’t seen sooner,” Bogdanovic said. “We have to go out there and be aggressive.”
Offensively, the Jazz have performed well in the regular season against the Clippers, posting offensive odds of 116, 114 and 114 in all three games. If the Clippers are playing heavy minutes on Ivica Zubac, Jazz’s pick and roll should lead to clean looks like it has been doing all season. Utah, especially Mitchell, have improved their offensive switching defenses this season. Mitchell was good at attacking just with the switch so he could break the paint. That said, the job gets a lot harder with Conley, who is out for Game 1 with right hamstring strain, not being able to go.
“We can’t pass up the looks on this team because they’re great at recovering and scrambling,” said Mitchell. “They have 6-8, 6-9, 6-6, 6-whatever, and then the wingspans are there too. It’s called their little range but that’s just because they don’t have no seven feet there but at the end of the day they’re really good at scrambling and recovering, so for us we have to be able to run and play through that. “
Utah vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Game 1: Tuesday at Utah, 8 p.m., TNT
Game 2: Thursday at Utah, 8 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: Saturday in Los Angeles, 6:30 p.m., ABC
Game 4: Monday June 14 in Los Angeles, TBD, TNT
* Game 5: Wednesday June 16 in Utah, TBD, TNT
* Thu 6: Friday June 18 in Los Angeles, TBD, ESPN
* Thu 7: Sunday June 20 in Utah, TBD