The Clippers beat the Lakers in a much-ballyhooed opening night matchup yesterday, 112-102. After struggling mightily in the opening minutes of the game, the Clippers appeared to be the better team, especially defensively, swarming the Lakers’ offense and preventing them from getting into any kind of rhythm. It’s just one game of a long season, so it’s hard to pull too much away, but here are three quick takeaways from last night’s game that might have a more lasting impact.
Doc Plays Three Guards
While there was much discussion on who Doc would start in game one, especially on the starting power forward to replace Paul George, the most interesting rotation question in preseason surrounded the reserves, particularly the guards. Terance Mann impressed with his poise and on-ball defense, utilizing his length to pester ball-handlers and make passes over the top of defenders. Jerome Robinson also showed flashes of competence, especially as a scorer, while Rodney McGruder provided the most consistent presence due to his hustle and shooting. Even training camp invitee Derrick Walton Jr. had his moments, earning himself a spot on the Clippers’ regular season roster. And which of these guards did Doc play in game one? None of them.
Instead, Doc utilized only three true guards, playing Pat Beverley, Landry Shamet, and Lou Williams as his guards and leaving the rest of the rotation to larger wings and big men. Now, the Lakers are a big (and very dangerous) team, so the shortened rotations could have been game-specific, but it is interesting that Mann and Robinson didn’t get even a chance at minutes last night. McGruder’s injury could play a role too (I would have him as the favorite to get that 10th man spot), so the rotation might change upon his return. However, Terance and Jerome don’t appear to be every-night players right now, which is a bit surprising considering the hype (especially around Mann) in preseason. There’s plenty of time for them to enter Doc’s rotation, but last night, they were firmly outside it.
Zubac’s Minutes Were Cut
If there was any matchup that seemed cut-out for Ivica Zubac’s services, it was last night against the Lakers. The Lakers are a big team that usually plays two big men at once, and Zu’s ideal use is defending those bigger bodies, as he’s the only seven footer on the Clippers roster. However, he played only 10 minutes, with a miniscule 1st quarter stint (when the Clippers looked awful) and a slightly longer (and stronger) run in the 3rd. Once he checked out, he never came back in, with Montrezl Harrell playing the rest of the minutes at center. Nor did Trez and Zu play together – Doc instead utilized JaMychal Green, Patrick Patterson, and Moe Harkless at power forward, with Harrell exclusively holding down the pivot.
Some of this was on Zu – he looked a step slow defensively in the first quarter in particular – but mostly it was just Trez being fantastic. If Trez plays as well as he did yesterday on a regular basis, Doc will be hard-pressed to play him under 30 minutes per game. Harrell’s energy and activity are better-suited for somewhat fewer minutes, but when he’s as effective as he was last night, it doesn’t matter. Zu could still be quicker and smarter defensively, but he played well on offense and sharpened up in the 3rd quarter. Unless he really breaks out, this could be a portent of things to come for the center position.
Patrick Patterson Starts
Doc has mentioned several times the idea of a “sliding starting lineup” that shifts depending on matchups. But I’m not sure anyone predicted that Patrick Patterson would start the Clippers’ first game of the season against the Lakers. Doc liked Patterson’s size and physicality against the Lakers and Anthony Davis, and while a fairly disastrous 1st quarter stint had people questioning Doc, he was rewarded in the end when Patterson excelled during the Clippers’ 3rd quarter burst. Patterson defended the impossibly difficult AD well, drained a three in transition, and pulled in a couple boards, showing off that physical presence that Doc liked. He’s definitely not the shooter or scorer (or overall player) that JaMychal Green is, nor is he close to the defender that Moe Harkless is, but last night he looked like a viable stopgap rotation option until Paul George’s return, and that’s all the Clippers can ask for. I don’t know how many times he starts (or should start), but if he gets a handful of minutes per game off the bench the Clippers should be fine.
There were plenty of other things to take away (Kawhi’s brilliance, Lou and Trez’s mind-meld abilities), but these were the three that jumped out to me. What caught your eyes in the Clippers’ triumphant first win of the 2020 NBA season?