3 adjustments Clippers must make after Game 2 loss to Suns ties series

Not a lot of people gave the Los Angeles Clippers much of a chance against the star-studded Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs. But here the Clippers are, heading back to LA with the series tied at one game apiece, thanks largely to Kawhi Leonard’s steadying presence and Russell Westbrook’s immense defensive impact.

In fact, the Clippers even made a convincing case in Game 2 to go up 2-0 in the series, as they played the first 19 minutes of the contest to perfection. They built a 13-point lead, forcing the Suns to play from behind like they did for most of Game 1.

However, in the end, the Suns’ sheer star power became too much to overcome, even for one of the best playoff performers of all time in Kawhi Leonard. Devin Booker was already too much to contain on his own, but with the Clippers having to send double teams to Kevin Durant, defending Booker simply became too tall of a task for the Clippers.

Even then, it’s clear that the Clippers have a chance to win the series, even with Paul George still out due to a knee injury. What the Clippers must do, as head coach Tyronn Lue said following their 123-109 Game 2 defeat, is to clean up the execution on some of their schemes, as the foundation is definitely there for them to win this hotly-contested first-round series.

Here are a few adjustments the Clippers have to make to protect the homecourt advantage they stole by winning Game 1.

3. Cut down on the drop coverage

Part of what made the Suns such a scary team following their acquisition of Kevin Durant was that they’d have to work even harder not to get a quality shot in a given possession than to get one. Durant is one of the best shot creators in league history, and given his deadly combination of ballhandling skills and height, he can get off a quality shot at any time. Adding him to a team with Devin Booker and Chris Paul, two players who can manipulate defenses with their midrange mastery as well, made defending the Suns a hellish task to accomplish.

But in today’s NBA, playing the numbers game is important. Throwing two defenders on the ball on the pick-and-roll against the Suns may not be the wisest idea, and the Clippers know it. Usually, the Suns have one of Durant, Booker, or Paul ready to make plays on a stretched-out Clippers defense on the weak side.

In Game 2, the Suns definitely took advantage of this whenever the Clippers threw double teams towards Kevin Durant. During the fourth quarter, Devin Booker had a few easy baskets as he took advantage of a Clippers defense that overloaded the strong side.

Thus, playing drop coverage may be a matter of choosing the lesser evil. But as the Suns showed in Game 2, they’re well equipped to handle that scheme as well.

Booker, in particular, had an eat-all-he-can on pull-ups, especially when his three-point shooting came alive. Durant was, as per usual, automatic from midrange as well, while Paul joined the party late in the contest, sealing the game late in the fourth.

All in all, the Suns went 21-29 from midrange, stretching the Clippers’ drop coverage thin in the process. While that figure is unsustainable, the Clippers will have to put up more of a fight in that department instead of conceding open pull-ups, essentially inviting the Suns to outgun them — which they did in Game 2.

The Clippers may have to play a more switchable unit to bait the Suns offense into one-on-one basketball. The Suns could definitely make the Clippers pay still given the talent level among their Big 3. But that might be a better bet than to put the entire team in rotation when sending double teams or to concede easy midrange buckets.

This is not to say that the Clippers should cut down on the drop coverage entirely. After all, basic basketball analytics show that the midrange shot is still one of the most inefficient shots in the game. But the Clippers have to be more malleable; with the Suns making it rain from midrange, there comes a point where they need to switch it up defensively.

The onus will now be on the Clippers’ perimeter defenders to keep their matchup in front of them.

2. Play Robert Covington

Speaking of switchable units, the Clippers boast the services of Robert Covington, someone who has experience playing as a small-ball five. Covington is a player whose game is tailor-made for the modern NBA given his ability to defend on the perimeter, defend the passing lanes, and knock down open triples.

But Tyronn Lue has remained hesitant to put Covington on the court, playing him a grand total of zero minutes in the first two games of the series thus far. Lue has put Covington on such a short leash throughout the 2022-23 season, sending the Clippers fanbase into a collective state of confusion.

But it might be time for Lue to dust off the 6’7 forward.

In the fourth quarter, Lue did play a small-ball unit, but with Kawhi Leonard at the five. Leonard played alongside Russell Westbrook, Bones Hyland, Norman Powell, and Terance Mann in an effort to inject more pace into a team that needed to overcome a double-digit deficit.

Lue definitely has a strong rationale for his insistence on playing four-guard lineups. Pace is one factor, and shot creation is another. Westbrook, Mann, and Powell can manufacture some easy baskets at the rim as well. Inserting Nicolas Batum or Robert Covington would have given the Clippers one less dangerous offensive weapon, as those two are best-suited as standstill shooters or quick ball movers on the dribble handoff.

But that lineup is simply unable to give the Clippers the defensive benefits of going small, namely perimeter rigidity.

Finding the right offense-defense balance is certainly a tricky task for Lue at the moment with Paul George out. But with the Suns getting whatever they wanted offensively in Game 2, it may be time to tip that risk-reward calculus towards the defensive side of things. And when that happens, Robert Covington could soon play a huge role… to the Clippers’ benefit.

1. Play Terance Mann more minutes

If the Clippers do go small more often, Terance Mann will have to come up huge for the Clippers once more the way he did for them in 2021.

Mann has already had his moments during the 2023 NBA playoffs. It seems like the 26-year old guard is taking a page off the book of his former teammate Patrick Beverley, hounding Chris Paul relentlessly for 94-feet. Mann has also been strong when it comes to attacking the rim, proving his worth as one of the Clippers’ most valuable role players.

In Game 2, Mann certainly did his part. He did not miss a shot from the field, and he tried his best to be a bothersome presence for the Clippers’ drop coverage. Even then, with the Clippers trying to make a comeback late in the game, it was Norman Powell who earned crunch-time duties. Again, this decision is certainly defensible, as the Clippers needed to score in bunches to make the Suns sweat.

However, getting defensive stops was the issue for the Clippers for the final 29 minutes of the game. And with the Clippers insistent on sticking with their drop coverage, Terance Mann would have given the Clippers a quicker guy than either Powell or Eric Gordon to navigate screens.

Mann already played 26 minutes in Game 2, but he may have to play even more as the Clippers, as previously mentioned, try to land on an offense-defense balance that works.

The post 3 adjustments Clippers must make after Game 2 loss to Suns ties series appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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