We have our first two-day break in this series, so it’s time to examine the Good, Bad, and Ugly as the Clippers trail the Suns 3-1.

The Good

Russell Westbrook – Look, I still have major reservations on the Clippers bringing back Russ next season, which I will hopefully get more in-depth on in the offseason. But it can’t be denied that he has been excellent in this series. Across four games, Russ is averaging 26 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists on decent efficiency at 55% True Shooting. His defense has ranged from good to fantastic, and he’s raking in steals and blocks while not gambling too much. Russ’ effort and energy have been there throughout, and is a major reason the Clippers as a group haven’t collapsed to the Suns’ pushes. You can’t have asked or expected more, even if the shooting is certainly lucky/small sample variance. That’s what the playoffs are, after all, so the Clippers will take it. Outside of Clippers’ injuries (more on that later), this series will probably most be remembered for Russ’ play, and for good reason.

Terance Mann – Terance’s numbers don’t jump off the page – 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists – but he’s been very good in this series. He’s scoring extremely efficiently (79.4% True Shooting!!) and his defense has been excellent. Really, the only irritating thing is that he’s not playing more, averaging a mere 26.5 minutes per contest across the series. Terance should probably be in the 35 minute range at least considering his defense across all of the Suns’ best players and the sheer pace at which he plays, and he’s once again cemented himself as someone the Clippers can rely upon in the postseason.

The Bad

The Defense – The Clippers are facing an uphill battle without Paul George and only with two games of Kawhi Leonard against a Suns team with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton. Still, of the 16 teams in the playoffs, they rank 14th in defensive rating at 119.1. They have been physical, given a lot of effort, and executed well, but are still leaking points like crazy. Some of that is just the Suns’ ridiculous shotmaking that can’t be helped. But the Clippers are also trying to match the Suns’ firepower by playing very guard-heavy lineups that just won’t get stops consistently or get rebounds when they do force misses. Before the series I said that the Clippers’ inability to get true two-way lineups is what would do them in, and so far that’s been the case. They can go offense or defense, but not really both, at least not so far. Ty, as always, has leaned on offense, and the result has been a leaky defense. It’s not to say that the Clippers who are on the court are playing badly or lacking attention to detail per se – they’re just small and not the best defensive players on the team.

The Ugly

Ty Lue’s Marcus Morris Issue – I was all in favor of giving Morris a shot in Game 3 after Kawhi’s injury. But it should have been very apparent in his first shift that the near month off had not provided him with fresh legs. The defense and rebounding are bad enough that his offense would need to be great to make up for it, and he’s shot 5-18 from the field and 2-11 from three. To be clear, none of this is Morris’ fault – like every other Clipper, he’s giving it his all out there. But he just is not good right now, and Ty Lue starting him in Game 4, playing him 25 minutes, and closing the game with him was unbelievably frustrating to watch in real time. Yes, he’s scored more than Nic Batum. But that’s only because he’s taking a ton more shots than Nico, and taking them away from more dangerous scorers. He really shouldn’t play at all in Game 5, but I’m expecting him to start yet again, because that’s just how things have been with Ty and Morris this year. With how Batum and Morris have played, Ty should either start ultra-small with Mann at the 4 in Game 5 or try Robert Covington for actual, meaningful shifts with the starters, but I doubt either of those (especially the latter) is attempted.

The Injuries – This series has been extremely entertaining, probably the second most fun first-round matchup after Kings-Warriors, but it’s impossible not to think of what we missed out on due to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard’s injuries. It sure seems like neither of them will be back for Game 5. If the Clippers do extend the series to Game 6 back home, I think there’s a slight chance one or both plays, but the emphasis is on “slight”. With how the Suns have played, the Clippers may have won with just Kawhi, and I think definitely would have earned the series win with both of their stars. Alas, it was not to be, and just one game from the offseason, the Clippers’ front office will likely very soon have to ask the question if “it will ever be” with this group.

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