At the start of last season, when the Clippers and Lakers met on opening night, Doc Rivers elected to match the Lakers’ size with a big frontcourt of his own by starting Ivica Zubac and Patrick Patterson. Fast forward a year (and some), and Ty Lue had those some players at his disposal against a similarly large Lakers team. But he made a different choice, banking on the Clippers’ speed and versatility rather than trying to match up with the opponent.
It certainly helped that the Clippers had Paul George available this time around, even though Kawhi Leonard was good enough that night. But the Clippers dictated the terms with their game plan, and that was clear from the tip with their choice to start Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum in the frontcourt.
That lineup decision also helped the Clippers accomplish the three keys to the game that Lue laid out during his pregame media availability. Let’s go through each one.
Rebound the ball
The Lakers have a mammoth front line with LeBron James masquerading as a small forward, Anthony Davis at power forward, and Marc Gasol at center. They bring another strong offensive rebounder off the bench in Montrezl Harrell and another big body in Markieff Morris. They try to control the glass and supplemented a meh halfcourt offense last season with putbacks and outlets off defensive rebounds.
But the Clippers held their own on the boards. Per Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time, the Clippers rebounded 33.3 percent of their own misses in the halfcourt while the Lakers only collected 25.7 percent of theirs, leading to a 15-9 advantage in second-chance points. Playing Ibaka at the start kept Gasol away from the glass, and playing Zubac off the bench prevented Harrell from using his strength against a smaller center. For the game, the Lakers had more defensive rebounds, but that’s only because the Clippers took more shots.
No Clipper had more than six rebounds, but five of them reached that total: Zubac, Patrick Beverley, George, Leonard, Batum, and Ibaka.
The possession that best exemplified the Clippers’ commitment on the glass came late in the game near the midway mark of the fourth quarter. The Clippers collected three offensive boards in the same sequence to hold on to the ball for 66 seconds. They ended the play up 15 after a Leonard jumper, and it was basically game over.
“Only giving up eight offensive rebounds, and Trezz had four of those, anytime you keep AD to zero offensive rebounds we’ve done a pretty good job,” Lue said postgame. “So with their size, and their length, we wanted to do a good job on the glass, and we did that.”
Keep the Lakers out of transition
It was a common sight last season for the Lakers to close out a possession and have James loft the ball to a streaking Davis, who would dunk over a trailing defender. As a result, the Lakers were the most effective transition team in the league during the regular season. They were far from that against the Clippers.
The Clippers sacrificed some size for speed to start, but that allowed them to get up and down the court with the Lakers. Even though the Lakers spent 17.5 percent of their possessions in transition, they weren’t very good. The Clippers tracked back on defense, got in passing lanes, and frustrated what should have been easy offense. Here are a few instances of the Clippers preventing scoring opportunities on the break.
Not only were the Clippers effective at deterring the Lakers’ transition offense, they also did a good job of creating their own. They had 10 steals to four for the Lakers and a 16-12 edge in fastbreak points.
“We understand what our strengths are on the defensive end, we wanted that to lead to our early offense, and we were able to do that,” Beverley said postgame.
Attack the basket
The Clippers felt they could bring their physicality to the game by attacking the basket, and they were able to do that from the get-go. Ibaka stretched Gasol away from the basket, allowing the perimeter players to drive to the hoop. The Clippers took 24 shots at the rim in addition to drawing six shooting fouls right at the basket. They also had another 17 field-goal attempts in the short midrange, a pet spot for Leonard. Time and again, the Clippers were able to get to their preferred spots close to the rim, and their offense was better for it. They outscored the Lakers 50-38 in the paint in the game, and considering the Lakers averaged 52.8 points in the paint last season, that was a huge win for the Clippers.