Almost immediately after it was determined on Sunday that the Utah Jazz will face the LA Clippers in the second round of the NBA playoffs, a major question that arose was how the Jazz will deal with the potential of the Clippers playing large stretches with no traditional big men on the floor.
Trailing 0-2 in their first round series against the Dallas Mavericks and down by 19 early in Game 3 on May 28, LA out of desperation went to a lineup of Rajon Rondo, Terance Mann, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard with 6-foot-8, 230-pound Nic Batum at “center.”
The Clippers went on a 14-0 run, eventually won the game and flipped the series on its head with a “small” lineup.
According to official NBA lineup data, a similar “no-big” lineup featuring Reggie Jackson, George, Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr. and Batum was LA’s most-used lineup by a huge margin (94 minutes compared to 23 minutes for the next most-used lineup), and it was excellent with a net rating of 10.5 over the series’ seven games.
On Monday, Clippers head coach Ty Lue was asked about using the small lineup against the Jazz, which theoretically will pull Utah defensive anchor Rudy Gobert away from the basket where he does his damage because those who will play “center” can shoot from distance.
“We’re going to have to go small,” Lue said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on the floor (for the Jazz). (The Dallas series) was a good test for us of how to block out because all their guys crash...we’re going to have to go small at some point in this series.”
Beside the fact that going small was successful for the Clippers against the Mavericks (and against Utah during the regular season), they’ll also be without big man Serge Ibaka at least for the first two games of the series in Salt Lake City, as he did not travel because of injury.
- Lue on how to defend the Jazz: “Everybody’s touching the basketball. They live to play off closeouts, drive and kicks, getting it into the paint, spreading it out for 3s. They led the league in 3-point makes this year just sharing the basketball, getting into their sets, running their stuff with pace, so we know we’ve got to do a better job this series than we did last series of taking away the 3-point shot, making those guys put the ball on the floor and then having our back line ready to help.”
- Lue on how to prepare for the uncertainty of Mike Conley playing or not: “They play the right way no matter who’s on the floor. Conley’s a big part of what they do, but then they just inserted Joe Ingles, and he’s a 6-8 point guard and they run their system. They all play well together, they know exactly what they’re looking for, who they want to play through and how they want to play, so Mike Conley’s a big part of it, but but they still play the same way no matter who’s in the lineup.”