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Clippings: Paul George didn’t have the right ‘approach’ in Game 1

George acknowledged he didn’t adjust to how the Jazz were defending him.

Los Angeles Clippers v Utah Jazz - Game One Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

During the first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks, Paul George’s three-ball wasn’t falling. He made 15-of-49 triples during the seven games, but was still able to be an efficient offensive player thanks to his ability to get to the rim. That unlocked his scoring (he shot 27-of-39 at the basket) and his playmaking, as George led the Clippers in assists.

But against the Jazz, scoring in the paint wasn’t really an option for George. He did earn 10 free throws, all of which came on drives, but for the most part, when George attempted to challenge Rudy Gobert in the paint, it didn’t go so well. George was forced into multiple awkward finishes around the rim and was completely erased on a floater attempt. Although he earned one foul against Gobert, the majority of George’s drives came against Derrick Favors or when the Clippers were small and Gobert was stuck on a perimeter shooter.

Therein lies the difference between this series and the last: George openly proclaimed to the world that the Mavericks didn’t have a rim protector. The Jazz have the best one in the league.

Los Angeles Clippers v Utah Jazz - Game One
Rudy Gobert proved to be an effective deterrent against Paul George in Game 1.
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

“We talked about it going into the series,” Ty Lue said after practice Wednesday. “Rudy is the best rim protector in the league, I think he’s the best pick-and-roll defender in the league, so we’ve got to be smart. We come off — we can’t get too deep in trying to go in through his chest. This is a different series than playing against Porzingis and Boban and those guys. So now we’ve got to adjust our game to play against the Utah Jazz. When you come off and you’re open, just shoot it. There’s nothing to think about. We’re not trying to make extra moves. Just come off, he’s in a drop, shoot the basketball and be confident in your shot. That’s the big adjustment we can make as far as that.”

George shot 4-of-17 from the field, and those numbers were even worse inside the arc, as he shot 1-of-9 on 2-pointers. Shots at the rim are one thing, but George was one of the better midrange shooters in the league this season and couldn’t even get a rhythm going on his 2-point jumpers. Those are the types of shots that should be available for George and the rest of the Clippers.

“The shots that they want you to take are mid-range, but I think I can do a better job of setting those up,” George said after Game 1. “The big fella is really good at just clogging the paint up and just sitting at the rim, and a lot of plays I was just forcing myself trying to get to the basket where he’s there waiting for me. So I think just being decisive on approach of setting up, getting the shots that I want while he’s in those coverages.”

George’s indecision also manifested itself in his facilitating. He had two assists after averaging 5.7 per game in the first round. George has been the lead ball handler on many occasions for the Clippers, who often start an off-ball player as the nominal point guard, and has worked with Chauncey Billups all year to learn the right reads. Yet again, the Jazz present a different challenge than the Mavericks.

Dallas’ defense would collapse on George, but Utah doesn’t have to thanks to Gobert. That allows the rest of the Jazzmen to fan out and prevent George from hitting his shooters on the perimeter. That means George has to finish through Gobert, which is a tricky endeavor, or think twice before getting into the paint.

George got better as the game went on, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter as he found openings for jumpers on second-chance opportunities and attacking the paint in small lineups. But he can’t wait until that late to get going again. He has to adjust earlier. The Clippers’ fate depends on it.

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