The Clippers have their backs against the wall in the first round, down 2-0 with the next two games on the road. They have to make adjustments, because what they’ve been doing so far isn’t working.
The culprit so far, interestingly enough, has been the starting lineup. Despite L.A.’s starters excelling against Dallas last year against largely similar personnel, that same group (give or take a Landry Shamet) has been beaten pretty badly over the first two games. They were outscored by eight points in Game 1 and by 16 points in Game 2.
The Clippers starting unit was outscored by 16 points during its 11.5 minutes on the floor, giving up 34 points on 23 defensive possessions while scoring just 18 on 22 offensive possessions. Completely outworked. pic.twitter.com/I2whtL0221— Positive Residual (@presidual) May 26, 2021
If the starting lineup isn’t working, Ty Lue has shown an inclination to go small rather than play Serge Ibaka more. That means the Clippers will need more wings on the court. An easy solution would be to increase Nicolas Batum’s playing time. He played 32 minutes in the first game and was a plus-6, and followed that up with a plus-7 in 19 minutes Tuesday.
But if Batum can’t be stretched any further, the Clippers found another wing on their bench who was ready to go in Terance Mann.
Mann was a healthy scratch in the opener but was summoned with the team trailing by double digits near the end of the third quarter. He didn’t leave the floor for the next 15 minutes, only getting subbed out with 10 seconds to play and the game decided. In his shift, Mann scored eight points and had five rebounds while helping the Clippers outscore the Mavericks by five. It wasn’t enough, but it was a start in the right direction.
“With T-Mann, it gave us more energy, be able to switch a little bit more, a little bit more speed on the floor, I thought T-Mann came in and did a great job for us,” Ty Lue said postgame. “I think it gives us a guy who can switch on the floor, do more switching, especially with our second unit. Do more switching, a guy who can rebound and attack, get to the basket and make plays. I was very impressed with how he played tonight.”
On Mann’s very first offensive possession, he attacked Luka Dončić on a closeout and found Rajon Rondo on the opposite wing, who then hit Reggie Jackson for the corner three. Two possessions later, he attacked the basket with the Clippers in the bonus, earning two free throw in the process.
Mann continued to bring that pace and rim pressure in the fourth quarter. He even made up for his lone mistake, a turnover on a post-entry pass to Kawhi Leonard, by getting back in transition and drawing an offensive foul on Josh Richardson. Dallas had an offensive rating of 128.3 for the game, but that fell to 110.0 when Mann was on the court.
“I thought T-Mann brought some great energy,” Paul George said. “He allowed us to play fast. We got rebounds, we got out, he ran the floor. He was able to put pressure on them with his transition game.”
Playing Mann won’t ultimately make a difference if the Clippers continue to have defensive miscommunications and breakdowns. But the small sample size with Mann on the court proved that he can be part of a strong team defensive effort, and he brings a lot on the other end of the floor. He is constantly moving, forcing the defense to react and creating openings.
The Clippers groomed Mann to be ready for this moment all season. He has put in the work, and he deserves a chance to be on the court. The early evidence suggests the Clippers would be better off for it.