Having gotten into a 2-0 deficit for the second consecutive playoff series, the LA Clippers on Saturday night put forth a very impressive effort on both ends of the floor in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz and have shifted at least some of the momentum of the series with Game 4 set for Monday night.
What was the difference between Games 1 and 2 in which the Clippers lost and Game 3, a 132-106 win?
Pretty basic concepts, players and head coach Ty Lue said, but ones they haven’t always done well this postseason and ones they know they’ll need moving forward if they want to overtake the Jazz and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
In Kawhi Leonard’s words postgame on Saturday: “Just our effort, being more physical, boxing out, getting the rebounds, being more detailed to the game plan. I mean, the biggest thing is that we made shots tonight. We was getting open looks I believe in Game 2 when we weren’t knocking them down, and tonight we knocked them down.”
Added Lue: “Just the way we competed. I think we competed at a high, high level. I thought our physicality was there. I thought we did a great job rebounding the basketball and just taking the challenge (of defending Donovan Mitchell) one-on-one.”
Lue added on Sunday, “I think when we’re playing the right way, when we’re locked in on one side of the basketball, we beat teams by double figures. Last night we made some mistakes, but I think we played so hard for 48 minutes, we were able to recover and cover for one another; we didn’t make mistakes. We were attacking the paint, attacking the basket and shooting the ball at a high clip, and when we defend the way we did last night, we’re a tough team to beat and we understand that.”
Indeed, the Clippers raised their intensity level on the defensive end of the floor, picking Mitchell up early and making life very difficult for him at the point of attack. Offensively, Leonard and Paul George led the way, combining to shoot 26 of 48 from the field after they had gone just 29 of 71 in Games 1 and 2.
Still, LA wants to have a better starts in both halves than it did Saturday. The Clippers fell behind 8-0 early before controlling the last 10 minutes of the first quarter, and then Utah outscored them 34-30 in the third frame.
“We talk about it and we have to do something,” Nic Batum said Sunday. “We have to adjust right away. We can’t wait being down eight, 10, 12, depends, whatever, before we get a reaction. To be up 10, that would be nice…so we have to work on that and not put ourselves in a bad position by doing that.”
Lue said better starts to the first quarter would be nice, but he’s more concerned about the third quarter.
“I’m impressed with the recovery but we have to get off to good starts,” he said. “We can’t go down 10-0, 14-3. We can’t continue to keep doing that and dig ourselves a hole and you can’t expect someone to try to get you back in the game.We understand — when we come out, we don’t want to start slow. We’re not getting stops early in the game to get out in transition and trying to get some easy baskets.We’ve been talking about it all playoffs and we’ve got to do a better job at that.
“But you know, coming out in the third quarter, that’s the one that we really have to establish. All championship teams, they have great third quarters. They come out of the locker room with the adjustments and understand what they need to do and they execute.”