[NOTE: I started this before news of a possible ACL injury. My plan was to show how the Clippers could withstand a few games without Kawhi Leonard, not the rest of the playoffs. Still thought this was worth sharing though.]
Clippers fans are among the most faithful in the Association. No matter what you think about the franchise, you have to admire fans of a team that seems to consistently get knocked around. Through thick and thin, and there have been some seriously thin times in ClippersNation, their fans have stayed true. Today, those fans woke up to news that Kawi Leonard will miss at least game 5 of their series against the Utah Jazz. That news was no doubt followed by groans and a tiny voice in the back of every Clippers fans head whispering “cursed”.
Of course, there is no curse. There are only injuries. Every team still playing in the 2020-21 NBA Playoffs has some player suffering from something. Managing and avoiding injuries are as much a key component of winning it all as playing great offense and lock down defense are. In a perfect NBA world every team gets to play at full strength. Imagine that! I can guarantee you that if some magical elixir existed that could be given to every team that ever made the playoffs to ensure they would remain healthy throughout that the NBA Champions landscape would look a little different. In short, injuries’ are just a part of the game we love.
So, what do the Clippers do? Are they doomed? One key calling card for the Clippers all season long has been their depth. Generally, depth matters more in the regular season than in the playoffs where rotations are tightened up. In game 5 the Clippers will be without a player who is averaging 30.4 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block. That is obviously a lot of production, plus he’s All-Defensive Second Team! For these Clippers, in these playoffs, their depth is now needed. Here is how they can weather this Kawhi-less storm.
Reggie Jackson has averaged 15.2 points per game in these playoffs. What’s interesting about Reggie’s production however is that he has been able to turn that production off and on as needed recently. Now, I know that it can be frustrating to watch him shoot deep threes at times when PG and Kawhi are cooking, which is has done. But, if game 4 is any indicator, he is starting to realize when its time to back off. In that game he had only 4 points on 4 shots. He is realizing that it’s best to let the game come to him.
In game 5 the Clippers are going to need Reggie Jackson to score. In fact, to be very specific, in order to account for the missing 30 points the Clippers will need 5 points more above their average from Reggie Jackson (20 over 15), 10 points more from Marcus Morris Sr. (21 over 11), and 6 points more from Nicolas Batum (15 over 9). The remaining 9 points will have to come from Luke Kennard, Terance Mann and DeMarcus Cousins.
Now that we have the offense covered, we shift our focus to defense. This is where understanding your role and that you have 6 fouls to give is going to matter. The Clippers have been elite defensively when they needed to be. Team defense is more important than individual success defensively. The Clippers have proven they know how to play good defense as a team. That being said, players like Patrick Beverley and Terance Mann are going to have to take on the challenge of hounding Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell is too good top stop, you simply want to keep him from going from really good to en fuego! There is little doubt he will score 25+ tonight. In fact, chances are very good he scores over 30. The Clippers goal should simply be to make him work for those points and to ensure they don’t come in bunches. Use the 18 or so fouls the three primary defenders will have against Mitchell and make him earn everything.
This one is out of the Clippers control, but certainly something that could happen. Teams tend to let down their guard a bit when they feel they have an advantage. It’s like a game between the Varsity and JV where the JV gets off to a great start because the Varsity is sitting back letting them take shots they don’t expect them to take. Sometimes, those shots fall and the JV is off to an early lead. Of course, in that scenario the Varsity team always shows up and demoralizes the puny JV squad, but in the NBA a lead an momentum can count for something.
Chances that the Jazz let down are small when you consider they are playing at home and this is a big game. But, it’s possible and if the Clippers can get off to another great start it could make a difference. Landing the first punch doesn’t mean anything, but you would always rather land it than have it hit you in the nose.
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