The Clippers had a short turnaround between their first-round series against Dallas and Game 1 against Utah, and after playing seven tough games, it was pretty clear that the team was fatigued.
That manifested itself most clearly in the two stars, as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both had poor shooting performances and didn’t have the requisite lift on their jumpers. Both of them had been averaging nearly 41 minutes in the first round, and they both got up to 36 in this series opener, but the rest of the Clippers rotation wasn’t ready for the same minutes load.
Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson fell a combined 24 minutes short of their first-round averages, so Ty Lue had to find find reinforcements elsewhere. Luke Kennard stepped in and was the team’s third-leading scorer, a continuation of his strong play at the end of the Mavericks series, but the rest of the rotation decisions were a bit confusing.
DeMarcus Cousins played in the first half for the first time in the postseason and had a nice stretch against Rudy Gobert, but then didn’t come back in the second half. Patrick Beverley also made an impact defensively in the first half, even if he couldn’t hit a jumper, before being glued to the bench in the second, just like Cousins. Beverley didn’t have a role against Dallas, but his size is much more useful defensively against a player like Mitchell, and he proved that he could affect both Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson.
Perhaps the most confusing decision was not playing Terance Mann in the second half. The Clippers looked a bit lethargic, and Mann is usually an instant shot of energy who gets the team going in transition. More importantly, Mann has been shooting 50 percent on threes this postseason and is a threat to score. But when Jackson fouled out, Rondo closed the game. It seemed like Rondo was clogging the team’s spacing, and there weren’t many transition opportunities down the stretch, limiting Rondo’s value.
When asked why he played Rondo instead of Mann down the stretch, Lue said, “I liked his pace in the first half, getting open shots, we had to push, push the tempo and having a point guard on the floor because without Reggie off the floor we needed a point guard on the floor, so that’s what we did.”
Lue has shown a willingness to be experimental, and he just benched Rondo on Sunday in the second half in favor of Mann and Kennard, so the head coach certainly isn’t set in his ways. Presumably, as the series progresses, we will see more Mann and even Beverley. The rotations weren’t the reason the Clippers lost Tuesday, but they were a bit strange, and will give both the team and the fans something to think about over the next two days.
More news for Wednesday:
- Andrew Greif examined the relationship between French compatriots Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert, currently on opposite sides.
- Chris Mannix writes that the Clippers aren’t just up against the Jazz in this round.
- For Donovan Mitchell, Game 1 was just the latest example of who he’s been throughout his postseason career.
- Kevin Pelton broke down the impact of Mike Conley’s absence.
- Congrats to Nikola Jokić, the 2020-21 NBA MVP. Kawhi Leonard received one fifth-place vote to finish 15th on the ballot.
- Soft tissue injuries were up this season, especially among All-Stars.