The Clippers never look quite right when Patrick Beverley isn’t playing.
It’s not to say that Beverley is their best player, or even their most important, but at times he feels like their most irreplaceable. The intensity Beverley brings to the start of each game and the energy he carries throughout don’t exist elsewhere on this roster.
Patrick Beverley on his return - "When you out with an injury, you come back after just watching it -- I'm just humbled. Just fortunate to be out there. Can't take nothing for granted, but it was good going out there with my brothers, competing. It was fun tonight."#Clippers pic.twitter.com/IRcHNvlYhp— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) September 4, 2020
As excited as Beverley was to play Thursday after missing the last five games, his teammates were equally jazzed to welcome their leader back. Beverley only played 12 minutes, and it felt like his fingerprints were all over the Clippers effort.
“Having Pat back, it’s a big difference for the team, as far as his tenacity and the way he brings the energy defensively and just setting the tone for the team,” JaMychal Green said before practice Friday. “It’s contagious, and it feeds into everybody.”
Although Beverley’s defense is what tends to earn him praise from the national media, his offensive impact on the team is often overlooked. He’s a great offensive rebounder, though he didn’t have any Thursday, arguably the best in the league at his position, and he can be a deadly shooter. Beverley has shot at least 38% on 3-pointers for the last five seasons and made 40.8% of his catch-and-shoot threes this year.
At the start of Game 1, Beverley was the first Clipper to have it going offensively. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Marcus Morris Sr. each missed their first shots, but Beverley nailed two early threes to settle his team.
“I think people forget about his offense,” Doc Rivers said postgame. “He’s a terrific, especially corner shooter, and he knows that and he gets to those spots. So, you know, good for him.”
Like Rivers said, Beverley is just smart at finding where he needs to be on offense. If there are gaps in the paint, he’ll drive to the basket, as he did against Nikola Jokic on a play made on the rounds during halftime thanks to Draymond Green’s evisceration of Jokic’s defense on Inside the NBA.
Draymond picking apart Jokic's defense pic.twitter.com/Sncmb0Rfmq— Chris Montano (@gswchris) September 4, 2020
Beverley is also more capable facilitator than his replacement at point guard, Landry Shamet. Beverley is always moving, which forces the defense to react, and he’s able to find the openings that the defenders create while they scramble.
On the other end of the floor, the Clippers are still easing Beverley back in. They haven’t given him the prime defensive matchup in this series; Leonard starts on Jamal Murray, and even though Beverley would gladly welcome the challenge, he isn’t on Jokic either. He’ll surely spend some time on Murray as the series progresses and his playing time increases, but Beverley can still add value on defense just by talking.
Rivers has repeatedly said that this group isn’t particularly loud, and that’s a function of Leonard being a naturally soft-spoken individual. Beverley, however, never stops yapping, and that’s particularly useful on defense, when he calls out every action.
“Pat is, in a lot of ways, with that starting lineup, he’s a defensive captain with his voice,” Rivers said Thursday. “He calls out coverages. He holds everybody responsible. And to have that voice to start games is just invaluable. Then what it does, it just leaks over to the rest of the team.”
The Clippers’ defensive effort was on point for the third straight game, though some credit does go to Denver’s tired legs after an exhausting seven-game series. The every-other-day schedule doesn’t do the Nuggets any favors in terms of regaining their legs, and neither does starting every game against the relentless Beverley.
What Beverley’s return demonstrates is that the Clippers have so many ways to beat teams. Beyond the three devastating wing scorers in the starting lineup and the two Sixth Men of the Year off the bench, with Beverley in tow, they now have capable defenders at every position, shooting to spare, and a little more attitude on the court.
Even 12 minutes of Beverley gave the Clippers more verve against Denver than they had against Dallas for most of that series. That’s a scary proposition for the rest of the league.