Without Kawhi Leonard for Game 5, Ty Lue and the Clippers knew they would have to step up collectively. All of the players and all of the coaches would have to be better.
Of course, there was only one person stepping in directly for Leonard in the starting lineup, and that was Terance Mann, but Mann was very clear that his job wasn’t to fill in for the Clippers superstar.
“I’m not trying to fill Kawhi’s role at all, man. That’s Kawhi Leonard,” Mann said postgame. “But I’m just trying to be me, make things happen on the defensive end and be myself on the offensive end and whatever happens, happens after that.... I’m not trying to fill anybody’s shoes. These guys trust me to be me and so that’s who I’m going to be.”
Even though Mann offers some of the same size as Leonard defensively, that’s about where the comparisons end. The Jazz hunted Mann in isolation in a manner they would actively avoid against Leonard, so Mann simply used his speed and hyperactivity to make a difference, covering as much ground as possible to try to make Utah’s shooters feel cramped. Mann ended the night with the best defensive rating of any starter, and second only to Patrick Beverley.
Offensively, Mann may have nominally started at small forward, but he basically played center for long stretches. The Jazz certainly treated him as such, putting Rudy Gobert on him and having Gobert essentially roam as a free safety, daring Mann to shoot.
Mann didn’t have one of his finer shooting performances, hitting 1-of-5 threes. However, he figured out how to exploit Utah’s defensive strategy as the game wore on. On the first offensive possession of the second half, Paul George ran a pick-and-roll with Mann, Mann rolled to the basket, and got fouled by Gobert. A few plays later, Mann used his quickness to isolate on Gobert in the midrange after collecting the offensive rebound.
And then near the end of the game, after missing a wide-open corner three a minute earlier, Mann chose to attack Gobert instead of taking another jumper, since it didn’t feel like his night. He faked, drove hard at the basket, bringing Gobert with him, and dunked on the three-time defensive player of the year. The Clippers went up by seven, and maintained at least a two-possession lead for the rest of the game.
“I was just tired of settling on him,” Mann said after the game. “I just wanted to see if I could get him moving. Like he’s just, the whole time, all he had to do is help and then close out on me.... so I was just tired of settling. I just wanted to see what I could do. Got him on my hip; with a guy like that, all-defensive player in the league, you can’t just go up and try to lay it up. You have to go through him. That’s just what I tried to do.”
“A lot of us can’t do what Terance did, that was incredible, that’s special,” Reggie Jackson said postgame. “That kid’s special, second year, hasn’t played necessarily all throughout the playoffs consistently, but when he comes in he’s ready and when his number is called he comes out energized, ready for any assignments, whatever he has to do offensively, defensively and making sure he knows plays for every spot. What he does is big.”
Like Mann said, he can’t be Leonard; he can only do what’s already in his game. They do have a few things in common, though. The second-year Clipper and the superstar can both posterize people. They can also both make winning plays, and that’s why the Clippers are up 3-2 in this series.
More news for Thursday:
- The Clippers broke the Game 5 curse, winning the fifth game of the conference semifinals for the first time in franchise history. They’d lost the previous seven.
- Ramona Shelburne writes that this is what the Clippers do, winning games when the chips are down.
- David Thorpe found one defensive adjustment Ty Lue made in Game 3 that appears to have shifted the series.
- Law Murray has the goods on Paul George learning how to step up. That certainly came in handy Wednesday.
- A wild news day on Wednesday has left six open head coaching positions in the NBA, and Kevin Pelton ranked the most appealing. Personally, New Orleans would be the most exciting.
- Michele Roberts discussed the strangest NBA season yet.
- More tough news for the Jazz: Mike Conley Jr. suffered a setback in his hamstring recovery.
- And finally, Serge Ibaka is here for the haters: