When the devastating news of Kawhi Leonard’s injury came through, the Clippers’ season looked to be over. It is not. They are one game from their first ever Conference Finals. Clippers vs Jazz Game 5 was a lot of fun.
Paul George was brilliant. Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum and others contributed. The real star, though, was Ty Lue. Lue is a championship coach, a coach who has been underrated, and a coach who not only prepared his team mentally but made bold choices.
Leaving smallball behind would have been a defensible call with no Leonard. Ivica Zubac and DeMarcus Cousins provide size against Rudy Gobert. It would help on the boards and aid the defense. What Lue did, though, was double down on smallball, by inserting Terance Mann into the starting five.
Clippers vs Jazz Game 5 analysis
Mann has been one of the stories of the season. He’s the Clippers’ Bruce Brown. He hustles, he rebounds, he passes and he scores. Most importantly, he plays good defense. Lue knew they needed to boost the offense without Leonard. Having space was important for George. He didn’t clog the lane, he played five shooters and got into a shoot-off with the Jazz.
Both teams posted incredible first half shooting numbers. The Clippers were the ones who had the second half execution. Batum, Mann, Morris, Reggie Jackson all stepped up. Zubac played just eight minutes.
Playing this small isn’t some masterstroke, of course. It is commonplace in the NBA in 2021. There’s no question it worked, and not just because of the result. While single-game plus/minus is a bit dodgy, it fits the eye test. Mann was +15 in just 25 minutes. Rajon Rondo was -12 in nine minutes. Zubac was -7 in his eight minutes.
Lue saw an enormous, three-time DPOY on the other team and went for his 6’5 guard. There were other adjustments throughout the game, but what was a masterful night for the Clippers’ head coach started with a bold call in the line-up.
A lot of teams are looking for a new coach this offseason. Lue will not be available, but his success in navigating the Mavericks and winning Game 5 shows the value in a good coach. It isn’t always about revamping a team’s style. Lue makes the right calls far more often than not, and he has guided his team to big performances when they need it most.
The Clips could still lose this series. Perhaps George gets the meme treatment again.
Whatever happens, Game 5 was a big night in the Clippers’ history. They are one win away from breaking their second round curse.