There is no avoiding Rudy Gobert. As a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, he is going to be involved on a possession-to-possession basis. The question is whether his opponent will let him dictate how the game plays out or put him into positions where he is least comfortable.
The Clippers chose the latter on Saturday night, powering their way to a 132-106 win 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 complete team effort, as Los Angeles shot 56.2 percent from the field and 52.8 percent from beyond the arc.
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One big reason for the offensive explosion was Clippers coach Tyronn Lue leaning more heavily into small ball, thus forcing Gobert to make more difficult decisions than “I’m going to stand near the rim and swat away anything I see.”
After playing Nicolas Batum 21 and 27 minutes in Games 1 and 2, Lue started the veteran forward alongside Leonard, George, Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson and gave him a healthy 35 minutes of action. Batum rewarded Lue’s trust with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting (4 of 6 on 3-pointers), finishing a team-high plus-24.
With the 6-8 Batum replacing the 7-0 Ivica Zubac as the de facto center, Gobert couldn’t simply patrol the paint. Batum’s willingness to move along the perimeter allowed the Clippers to trigger help-and-recover rotations from the Jazz and generate good looks.
No make but this is the kind of ball movement the Clippers can get to with that small lineup. Batum screens for PG, two on the ball and the Clippers were off to the races. pic.twitter.com/wCnvU0SMcG
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) June 13, 2021
Batum’s presence also opened up driving lanes. Gobert had to account for Batum as a spot-up threat, giving Leonard and others room to penetrate.
Utah encountered the same issues with backup big man Derrick Favors, who was similarly not well-equipped to close out on shooters.
In addition to the increase in Batum minutes, the Clippers also saw more of Terance Mann, who was a plus-21 in 22 minutes after playing just nine minutes combined through the first two games against the Jazz.
“I think flying around, being able to guard multiple positions, rebounding the basketball, attacking. Just his energy, I thought was great,” Lue said after Game 3. “The fans love him. They love when he gets on the floor. He feeds off the crowd. We needed that lift today. He was great for us.”
LA has fallen behind 2-0 in two straight series, but to Lue’s credit, he has not been hesitant to make adjustments when he feels they are necessary. Now it’s on Quin Snyder and the Jazz to figure out a counter move.