Impossible to avoid Rudy Gobert. As the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, he will be involved on a possession-to-possession basis. The question is whether his opponent will let him dictate the flow of the game or place him in positions where he is least comfortable.
The Clippers chose it last Saturday night, making their way to a 132-106 victory over the Jazz behind a stellar offensive performance. Kawhi Leonard (34 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and Paul George (31 points, five assists, three rebounds) led the way, but it was a full team effort, as Los Angeles shot 56 , 2% from the ground and 52.8% from beyond the arc.
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One of the main reasons for the offensive explosion was that Clippers coach Tyronn Lue relied more on the small ball, forcing Gobert to make more difficult decisions than “I’m going to stand near the edge and crush everything I see.”
After playing Nicolas Batum 21 and 27 minutes in Games 1 and 2, Lue started the veteran striker alongside Leonard, George, Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson and gave him 35 healthy minutes of action. Batum rewarded Lue’s confidence with 17 points on 6 of 9 shots (4 of 6 of 3 points), finishing a plus-24 team record.
With 6-8 Batum replacing 7-0 Ivica Zubac as the de facto center, Gobert couldn’t just patrol the paint. Batum’s willingness to move along the perimeter allowed the Clippers to trigger the Jazz’s aid and recovery rotations and generate a good looking appearance.
No mark, but it’s the kind of ball movement the Clippers can achieve with this small range. Batum’s screens for PG, two on the ball and the Clippers were gone for the races. pic.twitter.com/wCnvU0SMcG
– Steve Jones Jr. (@ stevejones20) June 13, 2021
Batum’s presence also opened up traffic routes. Gobert must have viewed Batum as a one-off threat, giving Leonard and the others the chance to enter.
Utah ran into the same issues with backup big man Derrick Favors, who was also not well equipped to shut down shooters.
In addition to the increase in Batum’s minutes, the Clippers also saw more of Terance Mann, who was a plus-21 in 22 minutes after playing just nine combined minutes in the first two games against the Jazz.
“I think flying, being able to hold multiple positions, bouncing the basketball, attacking. Just his energy, I thought that was awesome,” Read said after Game 3. “The fans love him. They love him on the pitch. He feeds off the crowd. We needed that lift today. It has been great for us.”
LA are 2-0 behind in back-to-back series, but to Lue’s credit, he’s not hesitated to make adjustments when he sees fit. Now it’s up to Quin Snyder and the Jazz to find a counterattack.