Playoff basketball creates an environment where you have to adapt on the fly to survive, otherwise, you’ll be left in the dust.
Preparation is the name of the game, and the reality is the Clippers didn’t have a ton of downtime to prepare for Game 1 coming off a grueling series win against the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
As exhilarating as the Game 1 win was, this series is far from over. The Los Angeles Clippers have battled back from 0-2 deficits in consecutive series wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz. Being behind in the series will not phase them, as they’ve displayed time and time again through their resilience when trailing.
We’ll take a look at five key storylines to watch when it comes to adjustments and/or changes that could take place from Game 1 to Game 2.
#1: Injuries & Protocols
Chris Paul listed as OUT (covid protocols) on the Suns injury report for Game 2. As is Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers (knee), taking the two All-NBA players off the court.
Next on the agenda is the status of Clippers forward Marcus Morris, who was dealing with a knee injury that limited him in Game 1. Morris is not listed on the injury report, but it is a situation to monitor.
Ty Lue said Marcus Morris is still experiencing some soreness and getting 24/7 treatment. Morris only played 21 mins after his knee gave him some issues. No update on his status for tomorrow.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) June 21, 2021
Lue said Kawhi Leonard is out for Game 2.
If Morris is out (along with Kawhi and Ibaka) then you’re looking at a suddenly very thin Clippers rotation. Depth has been a strength of theirs throughout the season, but when you are missing three key rotation pieces it’s obviously difficult to compensate for. The status of Morris should be updated rather shortly. I expect him to give it a go based on him not showing up on the injury report, but it’s a situation to monitor.
#2: Lineup Changes?
Pinging back to #1 on our list, if Marcus Morris indeed misses time then it’s inevitable that the Clippers will have to make a lineup change. The logical choice would be for them to start Ivica Zubac as they did in the second half of Game 1.
For the Suns, with Paul out, I’d expect the same starting lineup. However, it will be interesting to see if Monty Williams rolls with E’Twaun Moore against after his disastrous 11-minute stint in Game 1. Personally, I’d like to see those minutes filled by more Cam Payne and some Jevon Carter sprinkled in. Our John Voita wrote about that in greater detail here: How about E’Twaun less, Carter more.
#3: Potential changes on how LA defends Booker
Clippers head coach Ty Lue said he thought his team gave Devin Booker too much real estate when picking him up early. That, in turn, gave the backline too much ground to cover after Booker got past that initial pressure, which sounds like a recipe for some adjustments from LA’s coaching staff.
DEVIN BOOKER WITH A GAME 1 MASTERPIECE!— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 20, 2021
He notched his first ever triple-double and got the W pic.twitter.com/VNFKwGqxNy
To me, this sounds like the Clippers might stop picking him up at half court or sending the high hedges and force Booker to beat them through pull-up threes rather than off the dribble where he thrives in the mid-range game. Easier said than done when talking about a guy that can get to his spots nearly on command.
#4: Clippers attacking switches
The Clippers made it no secret they were looking to hunt the “weak link” in the pick and roll early and often with Paul George. While Devin Booker has made tremendous leaps on that end this and last season, it’s still a favorable matchup compared to Mikal Bridges or Jae Crowder guarding the all-star wing.
They also relentlessly targeted E’Twuan Moore as soon as he checked in, attacking him on nearly every single offensive possession while Moore was on the floor. This will be a trend that continues throughout the series as they will look to get Booker in foul trouble or attack smaller guards on switches. Point Book lineups are one way to offset the size issues on switches.
#5: Will Deandre Ayton kill small-ball?
This version of Deandre Ayton has been a playoff cheat code, as he’s able to punish small-ball lineups offensively while not being played off the floor like most bigs when facing this Clippers five-out offense.
Phoenix has used him both as an interior scoring threat and decoy to open up shots for the wings in the weak-side corners. His presence puts the Clippers’ defense in a “pick your poison” situation time and time again.
Deandre Ayton is the biggest interior scoring threat to the Clippers' small-ball attack of these playoffs so far. Feels like a guy whose play will swing games as the teams are currently constructed pic.twitter.com/SIl7ZHj1Oo— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) June 21, 2021
If Morris is limited it’s likely we see more of Zubac and Cousins as bodies to eat up minutes to offset their depleted wing/forward depth. Dario Saric really struggled with Boogie Cousins, so that’s a matchup the Clippers could try to exploit throughout the series. When Ayton comes off the floor, expect them to mirror Cousins with Saric minutes.
Either way, the way Ayton played and positioned himself offensively on Sunday spells trouble for any Clippers small-ball lineup. If the Clippers decide to throw a big out there, then it turns into the Devin Booker hunting Zubac/Cousins in the P&R show.
Deandre Ayton's assisted buckets yesterday (nine assisted, one unassisted off a putback for first basket of game).— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) June 21, 2021
Just beautiful offense. pic.twitter.com/U8wUT6BTza
There will be plenty of wrinkles thrown in from both sides after a “feel it out” game one, so it will be fascinating to see how dramatic things change on each end.