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Clippings: Nicolas Batum unleashed his team’s defensive potential yet again

Batum set the tone defensively against Portland, and the rest of the Clippers followed.

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When the Clippers were down two games to none in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, the key adjustment Ty Lue and the coaching staff made to turn the series around was going small. The chips were down, and Lue called in Nicolas Batum to save the team’s season.

Five months later, the Clippers dropped their first two games of the regular season, and once again, who came to the rescue? Batum.

Admittedly, starting an 82-game campaign and starting a best-of-seven series 0-2 differ dramatically in severity, but the Clippers needed a jolt Monday just as they needed one in that fateful Game 3 against Dallas. It came in the form of Batum, who plugged in the gaps just as he has since he first arrived in Los Angeles last year.

Batum announced his presence on the opening possession when he picked up Robert Covington above the arc and forced him into an errant pass, resulting in a turnover right from the jump. The Clippers had been a bad defensive team for long stretches of the first two games; immediately in this game, they weren’t.

“I thought our activity was great, I thought Nico came out and really set the tone of denying the basketball and just being in passing lanes,” Lue said postgame. “Everyone just kind of fed off his defense in the starting lineup.”

That opening turnover was indicative of how the game would go for Portland, as the Trail Blazers gave the ball away 30 times, including 13 forced steals by the Clippers starting lineup. Batum’s defensive rating was 70.4, despite sharing the court with CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard for all but 37 seconds of his playing time.

Batum is simply a more versatile defender than the other options in the Clippers rotation, one who can handle guards and bigs depending on the assignment, and whose communication allows him to fit into any scheme. Right now, he’s only filling in for Marcus Morris Sr. while the projected starter manages some left knee soreness, but we saw how this played out last season: Batum took the starting job and ran with it for more than half the year, even after Morris came back.

The Clippers keep turning to Batum when they’re in dire straits. Perhaps utilizing Batum more can avoid those predicaments in the first place.

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