March 8, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Clippers need high-quality perimeter defenders

Inside their huddles, at least, the Clippers were full strength Wednesday night.

While coach Tyronn Lue and his assistants were off to the side conferring about adjustments during the opening moments of each timeout inside Staples Center, a group of veterans including the injured Kawhi Leonard and Nicolas Batum used the time to speak with teammates as they waited for Lue’s instructions.

Guard Reggie Jackson, who arrived one year ago after a buyout in Detroit, acknowledged that he wasn’t around for the entirety of last season to know how such player-led discussions were handled before. But, he said, it wasn’t like this.

In January, Lue acknowledged that he welcomes players’ input, even if it doesn’t align with what he ultimately believes is best, because it helps the roster buy-in.

“I’ve never been a fan of vacuum thinking, so I think our coaching staff, they’re not as well,” Jackson said. “T. Lue’s always open. That’s been the best part. T. Lue’s been really open to dialogue and he doesn’t — I mean, I’m sure he has all the answers but he’s allowing us to figure it out on the fly as well. And I think down the stretch, it’s just going to make us a better team because we were really taking ownership in the process.”

There was much to discuss during Wednesday’s 18-point loss to Utah. Because once the timeout ended, the Clippers were not close to playing at full strength, a void felt on both sides of the ball, but especially defensively.

By adjusting to the Clippers’ pick-and-roll coverage in the second half, driving deep into the defense and slipping passes to Rudy Gobert from short range, Utah sparked a second half in which Gobert scored 17 of his 23 points and Utah (24-5) outscored the Clippers (21-9) by 23.

“Their guard play is pretty good in the pick and roll, so when you have a big like Rudy Gobert setting solid screens, it makes [it] tough to guard both a point guard and a big and whether that’s a lob or a drop pass, he does a good job at finishing around the rim, or cleaning up misses from the guards,” Clippers forward Amir Coffey said. “He’s just a big body. So sometimes it’s tough to limit what he can do.”

Utah’s first possession of the second half set up what was to come: Bojan Bogdanovic dribbled around a Gobert screen and reached as low as the left block against the defense of a retreating Serge Ibaka before finding Gobert for a left-handed hook shot.

Of Gobert’s next seven scoring opportunities, four were created by Utah guards who had dribbled either into or just a step outside the paint. Using screens by Gobert, Joe Ingles set up his big man twice for baskets with passes originating from near the left block. A transition drive by Donovan Mitchell occupied the focus of three defenders who weren’t in position to stop a dunk from Gobert when, just feet from the rim, Mitchell dumped off a pass to the center who was running behind the play. Only a few feet from where he found Gobert for that dunk, Mitchell later slipped the ball between Ivica Zubac and Amir Coffey on an attempt that led to free throws.

Gobert is a high-volume, high-efficiency roller. On 115 pick-and-roll rolls this season, Gobert has generated 1.3 points per possession, 13th-best in the NBA. None of the 12 ranked ahead of Gobert, however, has run more than 37 such possessions, per Synergy Sports. Utah’s three-point shooting has proven just as paralyzing for opposing defenses as well, but as the Clippers know, it was Gobert’s ability to take shorter shots that doomed them in Wednesday’s second half.

“I do think their guards do a great job of going downhill and putting pressure on the defense, which allows him to be open,” Lue said.

It underscored yet again the importance of getting high-quality perimeter defenders such as Leonard (left leg contusion), Batum (concussion) and Paul George (right foot) back as soon as possible.

Up Next

VS. Utah

When: 7 p.m.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket, ESPN; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: Leonard has been voted one of the Western Conference’s All-Star starters, the fifth All-Star honor of his career. Leonard, who was named the most valuable player of last season’s game, has criticized the decision to stage the event on March 7 amid a pandemic, saying the league was “putting money over health.” Leonard finished third in the overall vote among West frontcourt players, with George fifth. All-star reserves, which could include George, will be announced at a later date. … Clippers guard Terance Mann focused his offseason improvement on making midrange shots, and so far it’s yielded results. He’s making 41% of his shots between three and 10 feet, an improvement of three percentage points, and 38% of shots between 10 and 16 feet, an improvement of eight percentage points.