Earlier this season, Kawhi Leonard resumed a practice he’d put off about four years ago: playing on consecutive nights.
After an injury wiped out his 2018 season, the All-Star forward was used the following season with Toronto in an extremely conservative manner. The result – his second championship in 2019 – plus off-season surgery prompted him to continue the habit during his first season as the Clippers.
But challenging to become a healthier and more engaged leader, Leonard played six back-to-back runs this season and produced impressive results, some of which were quantifiable. Leonard shot 54% overall in zero days of rest and 41% on three-pointers, and coach Tyrone Lew said last month that in the locker room “just showing that he wants to win, he’s going to play with his teammates.” Wanting to be there for us, that was a big step for us.”
The decision to increase his workload again paid dividends during the Clippers’ first-round win against Dallas. Leonard was at his best when the turnaround between games was fastest, shooting about 65% and 47% on three-pointers, while averaging 31.3 points in just one day of rest.
Lew hoped it would go well for the first match of the Clippers series against Utah on Tuesday, which was played to close out the Mavericks only two days after their Game 7 win. Instead, the Clippers “came out flat,” as Leonard put it, during the third quarter, which saw them suffer a series-starting loss, and marked Lew’s first defeat in the second round of 13 tries as a coach.
What-If: Game 2 is Thursday, the Clippers’ fifth game in nine days with little time to churn out the game.
“It’s playoff basketball, so you just have to be prepared for whatever it takes to win,” said Leonard, who shot nine of his 19. “No complaints here. I am enjoying playing basketball, and it is a challenge that you just have to overcome and you can just face it and enjoy it.”
If the Clippers’ legs were a factor in the 112–109 loss, they still saw it as no excuse for other mistakes that contributed to their second consecutive series-starting loss.
“We can’t let ourselves go down 2-0 again,” said center Ivica Zubac. We have to have the mindset to win every match.
That missing mindset, for Lew, was seen in his team’s lack of physicality. Utah blew through the Clippers’ screens, putting them out of the way with 12 offensive rebounds and Wings who were effective in negating passes from Ingalls and Royce O’Neill Leonard, causing them to work hard to get the ball. It fell
“We just have to own our space,” Lew said. “We can’t get caught up in referees and officials. We have to play through the contact, and we have to be physical on the offensive end, get into our positions, run our sets, take our catches at the elbows. “
Zubak said: “I think in the playoffs you just have to have the mindset to hit first in every game and be physical. I don’t think it has to do with fatigue or anything like that. It’s just a mindset.”
Video highlights from the Utah Jazz’s 112-109 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on June 8, 2021 in Salt Lake City.
Lew insists that that mindset doesn’t require a whole lot of effort to aggressively reach the rim. Inspired by Rudy Gobert’s defense of two-time former Defensive Player of the Year, Jazz is not Dallas, whose rim safety inspired so little fear that Lew openly stated that his Round 1 offensive strategy was “reach the rim or die”. was. trying.”
If Clippers ballhandlers come out of a screen and see Gobert—whom Lew has called “the best rim defender in the league” and also the best pick-and-roll defender—several feet inside the paint in “drop” coverage. Standing away, Lew will instead shoot the jumper open, attempting to make contact and risk the block. The Clippers made 45% of their uncontested shots in Game 1, compared to 34% of contested attempts.
“When Rudy is protecting you one by one or they switch or they veer, I think you just have to take the shot,” Lew said. “Just take shots as you drive into the paint, they’re fanning out so there’s no alley to pass the basketball, and Rudy is great on the rim.”
In one of his worst shooting nights this season, Paul George has done his best, continuing to attack the rim to generate fouls. But that way of getting himself into rhythm could have been taken away by Gobert’s presence. George failed to score in the paint in Game 1, although he did commit five shooting fouls in the paint, three while Gobert was on the floor.
Lew stated that both guard Patrick Beverly (six minutes) and third center DeMarcus Cousins (four minutes) would play more throughout the series, with Cousins’ opening provided by a back spasm that knocked out Serge Ibaka for a seventh game in a row. was. For the Jazz, guard Mike Connelly was listed as suspect to play due to his right hamstring strain, which caused him to miss the opener.
“We have to find more minutes for this [Cousins]Lew said. “It’s hard to play two centers off the bench when you start small, so that was the hard part about it. But I liked what he brought – some rigidity, some physicality, And we will need this chain.