The Clippers were in control of their first crosstown matchup of the season from the get go. They never conceded the lead and were last tied with 8:23 to play in the third quarter.
Still, there were a number of high-leverage possessions late in the game with the Clippers only up one possession and needing to score to maintain their advantage. And nearly every time, the Clippers executed to perfection. Within the final six minutes, the Clippers had the ball 10 times up by three points or less, and they scored on seven of those plays. That level of execution hasn’t always been there this season, but on a big stage, the Clippers came ready.
Ty Lue explained the team’s offensive game plan against a Lakers squad that was aggressive to double. “We know when they get mismatches they’re going to fire and double-team so we wanted our shooters on the floor, that’s why Serge is on the floor as well,” Lue said. “If we get the switch with PG on a smaller player and they’re going to fire, then we just got to get to our spots. It’s something we worked on last year, all this year as well. We just did a good job of trusting — outside of that one time — we did a good job of just trusting the pass, trust what we’ve been working on for the last two years and we was able to execute it.”
this exact play. just a really sly counter to how the lakers were attempting to guard paul george, knowing the lakers were gonna trap because they didn’t wanna leave monk on pg.— Jamal Cristopher (@JamCristopher) December 4, 2021
completely emptied the side, luke fakes like he’s going middle and just goes right to the corner. https://t.co/xebxxP3lJY pic.twitter.com/VEJr7R3iqt
The Clippers framed their success as executing the blueprint. Meanwhile, the Lakers were quick to shower praise on Lue for making adjustments to throw them off guard.
The main premise of the Clippers’ end-of-game offense was simple: Get Malik Monk to have to guard Paul George, which will force the Lakers to double and put them into rotation. If the Clippers make the right pass, someone will eventually be open. But the Clippers ran this so many times and with so many wrinkles that the Lakers couldn’t keep up.
First, it was Luke Kennard (Monk’s man) setting a screen for George and then rolling to the free-throw line for an open jumper. On the next halfcourt set, George swung the ball on the perimeter, and Reggie Jackson was able to attack an Anthony Davis closeout; he missed the layup, but Marcus Morris Sr. was able to score on the offensive rebound scramble. After another Jackson miss, George attacked Monk 1-on-1 the next time down, and Monk was able to swipe the ball away, a rare win for the Lakers defense.
Fortunately, the Clippers got a stop, called timeout, and ran what became the defining play of clutch time. The Lakers trapped George again, but the Clippers made the counter to stash Kennard on the strong side corner, and George made the easy pass to hit Kennard for the triple, and the Clippers went back up four with 1:12 to play.
Davis, Malik Monk, and LeBron James made particular note of that Kennard adjustment in their press conferences as something that caught them off guard.
“They knew we were rotating, and T Lue out of the time out, instead of having Luke Kennard cut through, he went strong side and kind of put us in a jam,” Davis said postgame. “Great play call.”
Malik has now called this "great coaching" at least three times during his postgame presser. https://t.co/hACtKnZPVy— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 4, 2021
James played for Lue for four seasons (three as a head coach) in Cleveland, advancing to the Finals each year and winning once in 2016. The Lakers star knows Lue’s acumen better than anyone, and he expressed that yet again after the Clippers win.
“T Lue is great, simple as that,” James said. “He’s great at every facet of the game, one thing I know — as coach, he doesn't have a weakness.”
The Clippers know what they have in Lue, and each player has made his feelings about the coach publicly clear over the past year. Still, it isn’t every day that another team, particularly the players, goes to such great lengths to compliment what Lue is doing, let alone any opposing coach.
It’s been a tough week or so for the Clippers, but they keep chugging along, and the tactical leadership from the man at the helm goes a long way towards propelling them forwards.