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How will the Jazz handle the Clippers going small? That question could define 2nd round series

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shoots during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) [May-22-2021]

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shoots during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) [May-22-2021] (Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — On Monday, Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue said what everyone already knew.

"We're going to have to go small," Lue said. "It doesn't matter who's on the floor (for the Jazz)."

The Clippers seemed reluctant to embrace a non-big lineup during the regular season — that all changed in the playoffs. The lineup of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr, Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum led to LA's first-round series win.

So expect it to be more of the same against the Jazz when the Western Conference Semifinals tip off on Tuesday at 8 p.m. MT.

But while the Clippers didn't show it much during the regular season (it's not uncommon for coaches to save things for the playoffs), LA cared enough about a Feb. 19 matchup against the Jazz that Lue deployed it in the fourth quarter.

The result? The Clippers built a 13-point lead.

Here are two open 3-pointers from that game that will demonstrate how much of a headache it can be to deal with a five-out offense featuring Leonard and George.

Play 1: Leonard drives around Royce O'Neale into the paint, forcing Rudy Gobert to slide down to stop a sure shot at the rim. But that leaves Patrick Beverly open in the corner. He missed the 3 but Beverly is shooting 43% from 3 this season — that's not a shot the Jazz want to give up.

Play 2: This time it's George driving in. Bojan Bogdanovic actually does a good job switching on to George to stop him from getting to the hoop. Gobert probably doesn't need to come down this time with the smarter play staying out on Beverly. But are Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Georges Niang and even O'Neale going to consistently be able to stop the Clippers from getting to the rim without the looming threat of Gobert? You're going to have to give up something against this team. What shots are the Jazz most comfortable allowing?

"There's certain things we got away with in the first series that we won't be able to get away with this series defensively," Donovan Mitchell said. "So understanding that we got to be on point, every minute in the game, every minute in the series."

However, it's not all doom and gloom for the Jazz.

The usual thought that regular season games don't translate to the playoffs doesn't seem to apply here — at least when it comes to the long stretch in the fourth quarter where the Clippers played that small lineup. Jazz coach Quin Snyder is revered around the league for his X's and O's, and here he has over half a quarter of game film in one of Utah's most playoff-like regular season games to build a game plan from.

And it's not like he's starting from a point of no success. Here's what some good rotations and quick decisions can force.

Look out how many moving parts that went into this single defensive play. Mitchell stays in front of George. Gobert comes down to block any potential shot. Bogdanovic rotates to take away the straightaway 3. Mike Conley slides in between two players to be able to contest whoever the swing pass came to and then cuts off the pass to the corner. Gobert rotates to the corner. All of that forced a midrange shot from Morris.

But look at the end: Gobert slides over to help as Beverly slides up to the wing, positioning himself for yet another open catch-and-shoot 3. Morris missed him (and the shot clock was winding down), but the Clippers probably could have had an open 3 at the end of the clock even after the Jazz did all that. That's what Utah's got to be ready for in this series.

"I mean, we've seen those matchups already, also against Memphis for one period of time, so it's not something that we didn't see earlier," Bogdanovic said. "We have to go out there and be aggressive."

Offensively, the Jazz were fine in the regular season against the Clippers, posting offensive rating of 116, 114 and 114 in the three games. If the Clippers play Ivica Zubac heavy minutes, the Jazz's pick and roll should lead to clean looks like it has all season. Utah, especially Mitchell, improved attacking switching defenses this season. Mitchell has been good at attacking right at the switch to be able to break the paint. That said, the job gets much tougher with Conley, who is out for Game 1 with a right hamstring strain, not being able to go.

"We can't pass up looks against this team because they're great at recovering and scrambling," Mitchell said. "They got 6-8, 6-9, 6-6, 6-whatever, and then the wingspans are there too. It's called their small lineup but it's just because they don't have a seven footer out there but at the end of the day they're really good at scrambling and being able to recover so for us, we got to be able to execute through that and play through that."

Utah vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Game 1: Tuesday at Utah, 8 p.m., TNT

Game 2: Thursday at Utah, 8 p.m., ESPN

Game 3: Saturday at Los Angeles, 6:30 p.m., ABC

Game 4: Monday, June 14, at Los Angeles, TBD, TNT

*Game 5: Wednesday, June 16 at Utah, TBD, TNT

*Game 6: Friday, June 18 at Los Angeles, TBD, ESPN

*Game 7: Sunday, June 20 at Utah, TBD

*If necessary


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