The LA Clippers are back in the series after taking Game 4, and they have their small-ball lineup to thank for it.
After starting small in Game 1 and going back to their big lineup with Ivica Zubac at center for Game 2, the Clippers have stuck with their smaller lineup in Games 3 and 4, causing the Jazz problems on both ends of the floor.
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In Game 2, with Zubac in the starting lineup Rudy Gobert feasted on the glass, dropping 13 points, 20 rebounds, two steals and three blocks, but in the two games since, he's been held to just 11.5 points, nine rebounds and 1.0 block per game.
Nic Batum leads the Clippers with 102 +/- this playoffs.- StatMuse (@statmuse) June 15, 2021
That's 28 points more than the next Clipper (Terance Mann). pic.twitter.com/Ladp7XFmci
Nic Batum alongside Marcus Morris, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard gives the Clippers much more speed on the offensive end, leveraging their shooting ability to drag Gobert out of the paint and not allow him to camp at the rim and swat everything that comes in his direction.
Look at what the small lineup from the Clippers is doing to Rudy Gobert. This is good multiple efforts but he has to show, recover to the pop. Help on PG's drive, recover to the pop. Help on Jackson's drive, wide open 3. pic.twitter.com/4tCGo6lK5q- Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) June 15, 2021
As you can see in the clip above, with Batum at the top of the key, Gobert has to rotate, help off his man and recover in the same action, which still results in a wide-open 3-pointer.
The absence of Mike Conley Jr. is being felt, as much of the Jazz's offence is generated out of pick-and-rolls featuring Gobert and what the Clippers are giving up in size, they're able to put four long defenders on the floor at once to clog up the passing lanes and break up the Jazz's offensive sets.
In Game 4, the Clippers nearly completely nullified Gobert's presence on the offensive end, with the three-time Defensive Player of the Year not attempting a field goal until late in the third quarter, getting his first bucket on a dunk with 2:53 remaining in the period.
He now has more fouls (16) than field goals (14) in the series and over the past two games, the Clippers have the edge on points in the paint (76-64).
"I give my coaching staff a lot of credit, they've done a great job," Clippers head coach Ty Lue said post-game. "Our players have done a great job of adjusting.
"We started small in Game 1, started big in Game 2, then started small again Games 3 and 4, but our team being able to adjust on the fly, we're doing a much better job of did in that first series against Dallas."
With Gobert defending the rim, he deters any Clippers player from even thinking about attempting a dunk or a layup, with his mere presence seeing the ball getting kicked out to the perimeter time and time again.
That hasn't been the case with Derrick Favors in the game, with the Clippers seizing their opportunities to score inside without Gobert blocking their path.
"PG did a great job of just getting to the basket, getting to the free-throw line 10 times," Lue added. "We know the formula how we wanna play and just attacking this team the way we want to."
Kawhi Leonard embodied that ethos late in the second quarter, throwing down this monster jam over Favors.
"OHH, A MAJOR KAWHI-LIGHT!" 😳- NBA (@NBA) June 15, 2021
All-angles of Kawhi Leonard's MONSTER JAM on TNT! #ThatsGame #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/VyRzGMZgLK
In addition to going small, the Clippers have added more Terance Mann to the mix and the rookie's off-ball activity and and defenisve work has paid dividends.
After playing a combined nine minutes through the first two games, Mann has given Clippers quality minutes off the bench in Games 3 and 4, with the Clippers outscoring the Jazz by 42 points with Mann on the floor in the series.
Terance Mann has played 44 minutes this series.- StatMuse (@statmuse) June 15, 2021
The Clippers have outscored the Jazz by 42 points in those minutes.
We learned in the Dallas series that the Clippers looked their best with this lineup, but will the Jazz and Gobert be able to respond in Game 5 and make them pay inside?
The chess match continues back in Salt Lake City, scheduled for Wednesday, June 16 at 10:00 p.m ET.
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