‘Get to the Paint or Die Trying’: Clippers’ Lue Looks to Balance out Offense

Paul George

Getty Paul George rises up in traffic

The Los Angeles Clippers were far-and-away the most efficient 3-point shooting team in the NBA this regular season.

Their 41.1%, on 34.7 attempts per game, was fourth-best in league history, and the highest percentage since the 73-win Warriors of 2016 (41.6%). Several Clippers, including veterans Reggie Jackson, Paul George and Marcus Morris, well-exceeded their career average from behind the arc, with Morris (47.3%) finishing second only to Brooklyn’s Joe Harris (47.5%) for overall league bragging rights.

Of course, none of that means anything now that the NBA Playoffs are here, a reality the Clippers were reminded of Saturday, as they shot miserably from long distance, 11-for-40, and fell 113-103 to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of their opening-round matchup.

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“We have great respect for their team, for the way they shoot the ball,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said the day after the game. “Our rotations need to be lightning-quick and on-point, and running the 3-point shooters off the line is only one of the multiple jobs that happens.”

Lue Wants Clippers to Attack the Rim More

While the Mavericks’ strategy for rushing Clippers shooters off the line was certainly effective in some regard — the Clippers were 0-for-6 from three when a Dallas defender was within 2-to-4 feet — it’s not like L.A. also didn’t have open shots. They simply didn’t make them.

“Yeah, I mean, I missed a few easy ones,” said Leonard on Saturday. “I feel like we all did. We missed some shots tonight — what were we, 28, 27 percent from three? Hopefully, some of those will fall in the next game.”

It’s a circumstance Clippers head coach Ty Lue knows will fix itself to some degree — after all, it’s unlikely Morris, George, Jackson and Kawhi Leonard will combine to go 3-for-23 from long distance in every game. But even so, Lue would like his guys to do more to keep the Mavericks honest.

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“They did a good job of trying to run us off the line, so we got to do a better job of just attacking them, like driving their closeouts,” said Lue on Sunday. “And I thought we had some good shots as well, but when shots are not falling, you know, they’re 31 in the league or 29th in the league as far as rim protection. So we got to mix it up.”

Even though Lue may be a little behind on his rim protection stats — in early February the Mavs were 29th in the league in opponent FG% in the restricted area, but by season’s end they were only 19th, according to NBA.com — his point remains a valid one.

In the second half, the Clippers shot 68% on nine shots within six feet, while continuing to underperform from three, going 7-for-22, including an ill-advised 3-point attempt that George jacked-up early in the shot clock with two minutes remaining and down three.

“Yeah, get to the paint or die trying, that’s what we have to do,” said Lue. “You got to take what the defense is giving you but I think we can do a better job with attacking those guys and getting to the paint a little bit more often.”

Mavericks Beat Clippers at Their Own Game

As the Clippers struggled Saturday to replicate their impressive 3-point accuracy from the previous six months, the Mavericks, on the other hand, rose well above their regular season mediocrity from three, shooting 17-for-36 (47.2%).

Dorian Finney-Smith, who, like several Clippers, outperformed his career average from three during the reason season (39.4% vs 34.7%), was 4-for-5 from three in Game 1, and 7-for-9 overall.

Crucially, in the fourth quarter, when the Clippers were trapping Luka Doncic in an effort to get the ball out of his hands (he had 30 points through three quarters), Finney-Smith went 2-for-2 from behind the arc, including a huge triple with 2:50 remaining that put the Mavericks up 103-100, beginning a 7-0 Dallas run that more or less put the game away.

Tim Hardaway, Jr. also made the Clippers pay for their focus on Doncic. The eight-year vet, a career 36% shooter from three, went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers amidst an overall 8-for-13, 21-point performance.

It seems likely that going forward the Clippers will put Leonard or George, both multiple All-Defensive selections throughout their career, on Doncic as much as they can, limiting the necessity for a double-team. But certainly, there will be times when the Clippers try to blitz Doncic, and when that happens, Lue says his squad needs to do a better job of scrambling around the perimeter and contesting or even foiling looks by the likes of Finney-Smith and Hardaway.

“When you take the ball out of Luka’s hands, they got three-point shooting,” said Lue. “So we got to make sure that we get out to those guys and make those guys put the ball on the floor.”

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