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Clippings: Ivica Zubac made a statement to the coaching staff

The Clippers have been using creative motivation tactics on the young center, and they appear to be paying off.

Washington Wizards v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

After Ivica Zubac threw down a hammer dunk on Dāvis Bertāns Tuesday, he didn’t say anything to the Washington Wizards forward. Instead, Zubac directed his trash talk at Ty Lue.

“He made me hear about it because I have been talking stuff to him about his finishing and whatever,” Lue said postgame about Zubac’s poster dunk. “He said, ‘is that a good enough finish for you?’ So yeah, he’s talking stuff.”

As Lue noted, Zubac was warranted in talking back to his coach. The Clippers staff has been giving the center a hard time for his finishing, but they also have a point. He has been blocked 20 times this season on 157 field-goal attempts (12.7 percent). Consider that the best defensive centers in the league have block rates of less than ten percent, and it’s clear that Zubac has taken his fair share of rejections.

Conversely, Zubac has only earned three and-ones the entire season. Even though he’s made 69 percent of his field-goal attempts, the coaches feel Zubac hasn’t done a good enough job of finishing through contact. As the big man on the Clippers roster, the lone seven-footer, the team wants him to be better. It has gotten to the point that Lue is showing Zubac video of the coach’s dunking days to inspire the 23-year-old to play stronger.

“I think we played Minnesota like two weeks ago, and I got my shot blocked like two or three times,” Zubac said postgame. “We were watching film and uh, all of a sudden, this video — low quality video — from someone dunking showed up and it was Ty Lue playing his college game, and he was like, ‘That’s how you finish.’ Ever since then, he’s been on me about finishing, being aggressive, dunking the ball every time I can, and it felt good. Every time I get a dunk over someone, next to someone, I come up to him and ask him if that was good enough. And I think it was pretty good tonight.”

His teammates’ reaction on the bench confirmed that Zubac did what he was supposed to do: use his size to overpower the opponent. Zubac isn’t just hanging around in the dunker spot, either. He’s running pick-and-roll with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, catching the ball on the short roll, and making the right decision. On that play, the low man in the Washington defense (Bertāns) didn’t step up, so Zubac went at him.

“That’s what we need from him, he’s been working hard all year, still getting his body right, and he’s out there flying,” Reggie Jackson said postgame. “Personally I think he’s been fouled quite a bit this year, so for him to just go up there and make sure that there was no way, you know he’s gonna finish through contact, doesn’t matter if the foul’s getting called or not.”

Zubac didn’t earn a free throw on that dunk, but he did earn the two points. He may have also earned a reprieve in the team’s next film session.

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