The Clippers are trailing the Suns 2-1 and are playing without their two superstars, but have played the Suns tough so far and could do the same in Game 4.
Where: Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
When: 12:30 PM PT
How to Watch: TNT, Bally Sports SoCal
Projected Starting Lineups
Suns: Chris Paul – Devin Booker – Torrey Craig – Kevin Durant – Deandre Ayton
Clippers: Russell Westbrook – Norman Powell – Eric Gordon – Nic Batum – Ivica Zubac
Suns: Cam Payne Questionable (Back)
Clippers: Paul George Out (Knee), Kawhi Leonard Out (Knee)
Slowing Booker: The Clippers have actually done a pretty good job of containing Kevin Durant, who had to deal with Kawhi Leonard for much of the first two games, and has been bothered by the physicality of smaller defenders such as Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, and Norm Powell. However, they have been much less effective on the other Suns’ star, Devin Booker, who has run wild. Booker is averaging 36.3 points per game while shooting 60% total, including an insane 66% on two-pointers. He’s blowing by the slower and larger defenders the Clippers have put on him, cooked big men on switches, and risen up over the smaller guys. If the Clippers are to have any hope of winning this game without their stars, they need to make sure that Booker doesn’t get untracked like he has in the past two games. I might try putting Nic Batum on him for some length, and if not, then Mann, even if Mann has done a great job on Chris Paul.
Too Many Guards: Five of the Clippers’ top six players in minutes played in Game 3 were guards, with Bones Hyland just a minute behind Ivica Zubac for making the entire top five guards. While that plethora of guards got the Clippers going on offense to the tune of 124 points, the Clippers also gave up 129, and their defense just isn’t feasible with so many small guards playing big minutes. Without George and Leonard the Clippers do have to play small to generate offense, but they can’t play that small. Russ is needed for creation, Norm for downhill scoring, and Mann for some size and defense, leaving Bones and Gordon. While Bones’ defense is very bad, his energy, verve, and playmaking are extremely valuable. Quite honestly, I’d take Gordon out of the starting lineup or at least limit his minutes – he’s given very little outside of three-point shooting in this series.
Plum Or No: The other rotation change I’d like to see in Game 4 to counter the Suns is the Clippers moving away from Mason Plumlee on the second unit. Plumlee has been largely ineffective on offense the past two games, and bad on defense throughout. If the Clippers are going to play a lot of small-ball, they should at least try to do it with size. A bench unit of Bones, two of Gordon/Norm/Mann/Russ, Robert Covington, and Marcus Morris would still be small, but wouldn’t be nearly as small as the four- or five-guard units Ty Lue was playing in Game 3. It would also accomplish the same rough goal of five-out units with all players being capable three-point shooters. Along those lines….
More RoCo: I’ve been saying it all year, and have long since given up hope on it, but will keep saying it anyway. Robert Covington needs to play more, or at least be legitimately tried (his four minutes in an awful all-bench second unit in Game 3 does not count). He’s the best rebounder of the Clippers’ forwards, the best help defender, and is a good enough shooter to stretch the floor, which makes him the best bet to anchor units as the small-ball five. Yes, he’s too small to guard someone like Deandre Ayton regularly. And yes, his on-ball defense at the point of attack is no longer good. But he’s better at the former than any of the Clippers’ guards, and not much worse at the latter than any of the guards but maybe Mann or a truly locked-in Russ. If the Clippers go to their small-ball units, RoCo should be out there, especially with Nic Batum struggling as much shooting as he has so far.