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Clippings: The Clippers are running out of bodies

Marcus Morris Sr.’s knee injury throws another wrinkle in the team’s conference finals rotation.

2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Clippers knew they would be at a rest deficit against the Suns in Game 1, having just finished their second-round matchup against Utah on Friday night, while the Suns have been off for a full week.

They knew they’d be without Kawhi Leonard, arguably the best player remaining in this postseason. They knew they’d be without Serge Ibaka, their first-choice starting center who can play more aggressive defensive schemes than Ivica Zubac.

Even with the Suns missing Chris Paul, the Clippers were going to be more shorthanded than their counterparts. But they won two games against the Jazz with this lineup, and they’re not going to feel sorry for themselves, especially not when they’re finally at the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

“No excuses,” Reggie Jackson said postgame. “A little tired but playing every other day, you’ve got to play the cards that we’re dealt. So it’s going to be an every-other-day series. We’re built for it. We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to find a way.”

But it was hard not to notice the downsides of being shorthanded. L.A. came out flat, as the non-Paul George Clippers combined for four made field goals in the first quarter. They also ran out of gas late, shooting 8-of-23 in the final 12 minutes while Devin Booker was able to play the entire second half and scored 11 points of his own in the fourth.

Ibaka and Leonard’s absences made it harder for the Clippers to play small, with only two forwards (Nic Batum and Marcus Morris Sr.) who could masquerade as bigs in those lineups. That problem was exacerbated when Morris hurt his knee in the first half and had to sit to start the third quarter. His mobility was clearly limited, and the Clippers couldn’t close with him.

The small lineups were the Clippers’ best hope of defending the Suns, as they were plus-5 in 16 minutes. L.A. was even when Zubac was on the court, but had difficulty defending when DeMarcus Cousins played. However, it was hard to blame Lue for riding Cousins when the only other option at the 4/5 was Patrick Patterson, who likely would have been exposed in similar fashion.

Phoenix’s primary bench players — Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, and Torrey Craig — were all at least plus-9 on the box score. The Clippers could hang with their starters on the court; they just had nowhere to turn beyond those groupings. That task will get even more difficult if Morris’ availability is compromised for Game 2.

The Clippers have relied on a next man up mentality the entire season. That ethos hasn’t changed, but it is being challenged. This conference finals is quickly becoming a war of attrition for the Clippers, and that doesn’t bode well against a Suns team that is deep, rested, and executing at a high level.

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