In the 2021 playoffs, the Clippers used Kawhi Leonard to stop Luka Dončić. In the Olympics, that job fell to Nicolas Batum. With both of those two sitting out Friday, who takes the mantle?
In all seriousness, though the Clippers aren’t going into this game with the mindset of letting Dončić get his, the idea of stopping the superstar is a bit beyond their preseason capabilities. It took a herculean effort from the greatest perimeter defender of this generation to do it in the playoffs, and that’s simply not going to happen 13 days before the start of the regular season, though it will be fun to see what Justise Winslow is capable of in that role.
Instead, let’s focus on the other side of the ball, where the Clippers busted out a few new tricks with the debut of Paul George on Wednesday: chief among those new developments was George taking five 3-pointers in his first nine minutes. That’s a 3-point rate that would open up substantial new possibilities for this team’s offense, starting against a Dallas team that doesn’t have a ton of mobility defensively.
When: Friday, October 8, 5:30 p.m. PT
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
How to watch/listen: Bally Sports Southwest, NBA League Pass
Opposing perspective: Mavs Moneyball
Clippers: Ivica Zubac (right shoulder strain) — QUESTIONABLE; Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Jason Preston — OUT
Mavericks: Reggie Bullock, Maxi Kleber, Tyrell Terry — OUT
However, when asked postgame, Ty Lue didn’t suggest that the Clippers are encouraging George to gun more; George merely found those looks within the flow of the offense.
“I mean just pretty much take what the defense gives him,” Lue said postgame. “If that means shooting 10, 11, 12 threes a game, then you gotta take them. But if it’s getting to the basket, getting to the midrange, you gotta take that as well. I’m not putting pressure on him to shoot more, just take what the defense is giving him, and he’s gonna have a lot of opportunities, so we’ll see how the game goes.”
That naturally begs the question: How did George find himself taking so many threes in his first (preseason) stint of the 2021-22 season?
George starts the game off by running a middle pick-and-roll with Ivica Zubac. George somewhat loses his handle as he dribbles past the screen, which pushes him away from the basket, so he just launches a corner three. It almost seems like he’s trying to find his rhythm with his first shot because there is still plenty of time left on the shot clock. Presumably, George won’t be jacking up threes like this one too often.
Next up, we have Eric Bledsoe bringing the ball up and setting up George for a wing three on a dribble handoff. Given Bledsoe’s pace running into the handoff, this feels like an action the Clippers could turn to regularly, especially if there’s a decoy on the other side of the floor.
George has now missed two threes, so Lue runs a set for him out of a timeout for his next three. George sets a back screen near the elbow for the inbounder, causing a switch, and then pops out behind a Zubac pick for a clean look at a three. Cleanly executed, and it presents additional options; for instance, if the defense doesn’t switch, Zubac could probably hit the inbounder (in this case Bledsoe) rolling to the basket while the defense keys in on George on the perimeter.
Next up, George gets a high screen from Isaiah Hartenstein. The Kings switch, and Richaun Holmes doesn’t come up to the level of the pick, giving George daylight for a step-back three. George misses, but he finally cashes in on his fifth chance, when Sacramento fails to properly match up in transition, and George just splashes a three from the same spot before Holmes can close out. These last two are exactly what Lue means about taking what the defense gives — if opponents are going to give George that much breathing room on the perimeter, he simply has to shoot.
In George’s second quarter stint, the Clippers really leaned into George as a screener, leveraging his gravity to help his teammates score. George will always have the respect of his defenses as a shooter, but even more so after getting up five 3-pointers in the opening period. It’s a useful way of maximizing George’s minutes without making him handle the ball all the time.
We’ve seen what an offense looks like when one player has excess responsibility, and the Clippers certainly exploited Dončić’s fatigue in those situations last year. They’re hoping to avoid a similar fate with George this season.