Perhaps the Clippers’ penchant for getting into a hole will bite them at some point in the 2021 postseason, but as he demonstrated once again Monday night, perhaps no team left in these playoffs is better equipped to lift the Larry Trophy O’Brien in July. .
The Nets could be on the brink of elimination after Tuesday, with the return of Kyrie Irving and James Harden all but guaranteed. Neither the Bucks nor the 76ers are playoff proven products. As for the Western Conference, the Suns are not a monster, and the Jazz will now return to Utah after a 118-104 loss on Monday night. The Clippers appear to be taking entire nights off defensively. Kawhi’s co-star Leonard hasn’t exactly lived up to his Playoff P nickname. But in an imperfect playoff field, the Clippers could be the team to finally win the first bubble-free championship of the decade. Monday night certainly provided a dose of confidence in that regard.
The Clippers aren’t necessarily a Brooklyn-style monster in a traditional sense, although head coach Tyronn Lue has a much deeper rotation at his disposal than he did with the 2018 Cavaliers. Paul George finished third in MVP voting just ago. 24 months. Marcus Morris is a quality scoring option, even with questionable shot selection. His mileage with Reggie Jackson and Patrick Beverley can legitimately vary, though, on the other hand, Los Angeles’ vast collection of wings allows Leonard to handle a greater load of play. This list is deep, flexible, and physical, even when they’re little. Every sacking from Los Angeles as a championship contender ignores available talent.
Of course, there are imperfections with Leonard’s third team. The lack of a real hit point guard was a major reason behind last year’s bubble exit, and it’s not that the addition of Rajon Rondo has alleviated such concerns. Team shot selection can suffer when they play a traditional cross, with Ivica Zubac’s presence in the paint often leading to a series of 3-pointers on early pitching time. But when the Clippers’ small ball unit plays well, few lineups can match its two-way excellence.
Lue opted to give up a traditional center in the starting lineup in Game 4, starting Morris at the nominal five alongside Leonard, George, Jackson and the resurgent Nic Batum. What followed was a complete bombardment.
The Clippers defense held Utah to just 13 points in the first quarter, and Donovan Mitchell finished the night with 37 points on 26 shots as his supporting cast struggled. Lue mixed coverage throughout the night, sometimes catching Mitchell as he opted for a change in advantageous situations. Mitchell has become an elite scorer and playmaker in isolation. Allowing him to feast on one switch after another is a recipe for disaster. However, catching him ad nauseam is what really gets Utah’s offense going. The Jazz thrive when the ball pings around the perimeter, battling defenses as Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson hit 3-pointers. Finding a way to defend the NBA’s second offense is no easy task. But the small-ball Clippers were able to chase Mitchell and rally on the Utah shooters. His performance on Monday should serve as a model for the rest of the series.
Not disparaging Doc Rivers, but Lue could serve as the missing piece for Los Angeles in its quest for redemption from last year’s meltdown. Lue transformed a relatively dismal defense into a champion in 2016, holding the Warriors from 73 wins to just 89 points in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He helped unite a pair of Eastern Conference champions over the next two years, becoming a true LeBron James partner in the process. Lue quickly emerged as one of the game’s brightest assistants while working with Boston in the early last decade. Almost ten years later, he is still a true strategist.
Knowing which version of Clippers you will get each night is a frustrating task. They limp out of the gate and then look like world beaters, building great tracks before stepping into a shell. However, it’s hard not to be impressed by the talent on the roster and the steady hand leading the way. George danced his way to 30 points and nine rebounds Monday, hitting four 3s in the process. Leonard is currently battling Kevin Durant for the Best Living Player title, and has tallied 65 points on 53 percent shooting in the last two games. We envision this duo going head-to-head with James and Anthony Davis in at least one of the last two playoffs. That did not come to fruition. But back-to-back champions from Los Angeles? It’s certainly up for grabs after Monday’s dominant Game 4 win.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.