As April came to a close, things were looking good — very good — for Los Angeles Clippers guard/forward Terance Mann.
L.A.’s second-round pick from 2019 had averaged 24.9 minutes off the bench in the previous two months, and his defensive energy and rim-attacking mentality had helped the Clippers go 19-8 over that stretch and make a serious run at the top spot in the West.
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In those 27 games, Mann averaged 9.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists, while shooting 49% from the field and sporting an overall plus-minus of +3.6.
But given the late-March acquisition of playoff maestro Rajon Rondo, and with both Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard returning to full health as the regular season wound down — not to mention the surprisingly stellar play of veterans Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum — it was unknown, seemingly even to head coach Ty Lue, how many minutes Mann would see in the postseason.
“When guys are back healthy and we have a lot of our guys back, [Mann’s] minutes could be sporadic,” Lue told reporters following a May 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Indeed, Mann’s minutes did drop precipitously in the final two weeks of the regular season (a 20-point, 7-for-7 performance in a win over Toronto on May 11 notwithstanding), and he saw only 14 seconds of time in the Clippers’ Game 1 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
But following 15 productive minutes in Game 2, which the Clippers also lost, 127-121, and now in a must-win situation heading into Game 3 at Dallas, it’s likely Mann will soon see the most crucial minutes of his young career.
Going Small With Mann Could Help Defensively
Though he played the entire fourth quarter (save for the final nine seconds), Mann’s initial insertion into Game 2 was largely an act of desperation.
After scoring 73 points in the first half (Dallas scored 71) the Clippers emerged from the locker room ice-cold, managing only four field goals in the first six and a half minutes. Meanwhile, the Mavericks were having no trouble finding the basket, as the Clippers continued to struggle both in getting out onto shooters and covering the paint. Dallas looked to be on the verge of increasing their 11-point advantage when Mann entered the game with 3:20 left in the quarter.
“We decided to go small,” said Lue after the game. “Went to T-Mann, it gave us more energy, be able to switch a little bit more, a little bit more speed on the floor.”
Lue’s gambit worked. Primarily checking Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Richardson, the 6-foot-5 Mann allowed only two points overall to the players he guarded (according to head-to-head matchup stats from NBA.com), helping the Clippers pulled to within four points with 1:24 remaining in the game before Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 3-pointer at 1:03 effectively broke the camel’s back.
Obviously, a loss was not the result Mann and the Clippers had hoped for, but Mann’s five rebounds and eight points on 3-for-5 shooting, as well as his quickness and energy on defense, impressed Lue enough to indicate more planned minutes moving forward.
“Yes, sir,” responded Lue to a question about Mann getting more minutes. “I think that’s a guy who will switch on the floor, doing more switches on the floor, especially with their second unit. Doing more switching, get out, rebound and attack, get to the basket, make plays. I was very impressed with how he played tonight.”
The fact that Lue said the word “switch” three times in his response is telling. The Clippers have been atrocious in their defensive communication against the Luka Doncic-led Mavericks, consistently allowing Dallas open shots from behind the arc and wide-open opportunites near the rim in both games.
Center Ivica Zubac has been particularly shredded on switches and recoveries, in large part because Dallas’ big men, Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber, favor hovering around the 3-point line over posting up inside, drawing the 240-pound Zubac into troubled waters.
A smaller, faster lineup, featuring more Mann and less Zubac, while unlikely to solve the communication issues, could help mitigate the damage if and when they occur and put more pressure on Porzingis and Kleber away from the basket.
‘We Need to Get Stops’
Following their Game 1 loss, Lue emphasized getting to the rim and not just settling for outside shots, something Mann has done well all season and in Game 2 — scoring all three of his buckets at the rim and drawing two free throws on a drive.
“I thought T-Mann brought some great energy,” said Paul George. “He allowed to us play fast. We got rebounds. We got out. He ran the floor. He was able to put pressure on them with his transition game.”
While Leonard was also happy with how Mann performed, he was quick to remind reporters that the team was already having success getting to the rim apart from Mann, and that the primary emphasis should be on the defense.
“We were getting to the rim all night pretty much,” Leonard said. “[Terance] did a good job. I give him credit. But that’s not what we need to do. We need to get stops, like I’ve been saying.”