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Landry Shamet brought some life to the starting lineup

Shamet finally looked back after his latest foot injury from the seeding games.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

After losing Game 2, the Clippers were forced to make a series of adjustments against Dallas for Game 3. Perhaps no single one was more impactful than replacing Reggie Jackson with Landry Shamet in the starting lineup.

Shamet has experience playing point guard from his final year at Wichita State, but that hasn’t been the position he has filled as a professional. Even as the Clippers have tried to work on Shamet’s ball-handling skills, his best role has been as a shooter around the team’s creators, whether that was Lou Williams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last season, or Williams, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George this year.

With Shamet back in the starting lineup instead of a “traditional” point guard like Jackson, that put the reins of the offense back in the hands of Leonard and George. It also gave the starting unit more space and a willing ball mover in Shamet, which benefited the second-year guard and the Clippers as a whole.

Shamet scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, the second-highest on the team behind Leonard’s 36, and only the second time during the restart that Shamet has hit double digits. It’s worth noting that Shamet missed the final two seeding games with a foot injury, but he looked fully recovered Friday.

“I thought Landry was fantastic,” coach Doc Rivers said postgame. “He knows our guys better, probably knows our system better. He’s going to play off of Kawhi and P.G. and let the game come to him. I just thought we needed the ball to be in P.G. and Kawhi’s hands more. With Sham on the floor, you just can’t leave him because he can make shots. I thought he was great.”

Los Angeles Clippers v Dallas Mavericks - Game Three
Shamet shot 3-of-7 on threes in the Clippers’ 130-122 win.
Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

The Clippers have rarely had their full lineup together during the restart, and even over the course of the season, so it was interesting to see Rivers look for some additional continuity, at least within the starters. Shamet started 10 games at the start of the season while George rehabbed and he’s been the spot starter at the two or three whenever George or Leonard sits. His institutional knowledge certainly exceeds that of Jackson, who only joined the team in February.

Two things really stood out from Shamet’s performance. The first was that he pushed the pace after Dallas misses. The Clippers were seventh in transition frequency during the regular season, but they’ve been forced to play in the halfcourt more during this series, probably because the Mavericks keep making shots. Shamet tried to run whenever the team had a chance, giving the Clippers easier opportunities to score.

Shamet also put pressure on the rim. The Mavericks may have scouted Shamet as a shooter, but it’s been about two weeks since he has hit a 3-pointer in a game, so he took advantage of that extra attention on the perimeter by blowing by defenders and attacking the basket. Even if Shamet didn’t score himself, there was usually another Clipper there to clean things up.

It was Shamet’s aggression that led to arguably the highlight of the game, when Shamet drove to the basket and dunked on Boban Marjanovic.

“Just trying to be aggressive, came off the ball screen, there was real estate in front of me so I just tried to take that up,” Shamet told the media after the game. “Boban was there, so I just wanted to be aggressive and go dunk it, so that’s what I did.”

The Clippers still benefited from Shamet’s shooting. He hit three 3-pointers, including a heave at the third-quarter buzzer to give the team a 17-point lead heading into the final period.

Shamet also made an impact on the other end of the floor, where frankly, a low bar had been set by Jackson. But the Clippers came out with a collective intensity on the defensive end, and Shamet was part of that effort. He stayed home on the Dallas shooters and didn’t over-help — which was a problem for LA in Game 1 — and solidly executed the Clippers scheme. Shamet had the second-lowest defensive rating on the evening behind Ivica Zubac.

“He took pride in his defense tonight,” Leonard said about Shamet. “He didn’t want to make mistakes. Even when he made them, he just put it behind him. He was aggressive going to the rim offensively. His three-pointers started falling. I think he did well.”

“We were a lot better defensive team today, we were in tune on that end, connected,” Shamet added. “It starts there, and then from there when you force misses you get rebounds, you can play a little more free. That’s what we did, and that kickstarted us on our offensive end.”

Shamet’s individual play tends to have a similar galvanizing effect on the rest of the team. Rivers said after practice Thursday that the players enjoy watching Shamet succeed because of how hard young he is and how hard he works. Ideally, Shamet won’t be starting going forward once the Clippers welcome back a healthy Patrick Beverley, but they need Shamet to produce in whatever role he occupies. If this game gets him going, that should carry over to when Shamet moves back to bench.

“I want to be whatever this team needs from me,” Shamet said. “We’re trying to win a championship. So, you know, you have to be able to, you know, do a multitude of different things on a night to night basis. That’s what I pride myself on, I want to try to do whatever it takes, whatever my team needs, whatever the coaches need, you know I want to try to do that to the best I can. And my teammates, I think they appreciate that and see that I know that I take that role, and I want to do that for my team.”

In Game 3, the Clippers needed Shamet to remind them of who they are at their best: a group that moves the ball, takes high-percentage shots, and defends as a team. Shamet did that and helped encourage the rest of the Clippers to do the same. Now, they’re up 2-1 and back in control of their first-round series.