“Tinkerin’ Ty,” a name thrown around in Clippers’ discourse thanks to head coach Tyronn Lue’s frequent dabbling of lineups and rotations, has fully lived up to its title. The tinkering has existed throughout the season — numerous late scratches, rest days, and common injuries had very much to do with the irregularities of the minutes’ distributions. Lue’s intentional lineup experiments had their cut in the chaos as well, creating memorable moments and gifting plenty of opportunities for all players during the season. Also, its unusualness allowed the players to stay locked in and never accept that they were completely out of the rotation — a considerable advantage for the team now that the postseason is current.
Still, the constant personnel shuffling figured to have an expiration date at some point during the season once the team regained total health or once the playoffs rolled around and a concrete nine-man rotation would be needed. Still, nine games into the postseason, the tinkering remains and does not seem to be nearing an end.
Surely, the different lineups have resembled that same “examination” and “feeling-out” process that was frequent during a good portion of the regular season rather than a display of panic. For example, in the Clippers’ first-round matchup against the Dallas Mavericks, the Clips had a drastically different look by the series’ end compared to its beginning. Patrick Beverley had a challenging two games to start the series after being oversized and attacked near the basket by the bigger and stronger Luka Doncic. Ivica Zubac had similar problems with Doncic, who repeatedly hunted him to get the switch via pick-and-rolls and punished him with outside jumpers out of isolation. Pat and Zu were ultimately replaced in the starting lineups by better-suited players for the matchup and saw their minutes almost entirely erased for the remainder of the series. Rajon Rondo also fell out of the rotation by Games 6 and 7 as his play regressed more and more each outing. Ultimately, Ty Lue pushed the right buttons in time to swing the series and live to fight another day.
Tyronn Lue and his staff might intentionally or unintentionally be playing a similarly dangerous game here in the second round. Lue coached Tuesday’s Game 1 loss to the Utah Jazz in a way that signaled he was uninterested in the right now and had instead prioritized the near future. As a result, the Clippers went 11-deep in the first half alone with appearances from Beverley and DeMarcus Cousins — who each had several DNP-CD’s prior — and cut the minutes of several of the usual-rotation players in the second. He eventually explained that the decision-making was due to the team having a quick turnaround from Sunday’s Game 7. It’s understandable, but was it worth it? Purposely not playing your best players enough minutes in a playoff game is risky due to the elevation of meaningfulness of each win or loss.
No, 11 players weren’t utilized again during the first half of Game 2, but coach Lue played more musical chairs. He moved Rajon Rondo and Terance Mann to the end of the bench in favor of more Patrick Beverley, Luke Kennard, and Reggie Jackson minutes — who led the team in shot attempts and scoring. Lue mentioned after the game that Mann’s lack of playing time was because he is out of the Clippers’ current playoff rotation. And after more questionable and unexpected decisions regarding rotations, the Clippers find themselves back in a familiar spot of being down 2-0, with Game 3 being the potential determining factor of the season.
Heading into Game 6 of the Dallas series, I wrote about how the season’s worth of good vibes and positive steps forward in leadership would be tested being down 3-2. That may still be the case, although slightly less in question now that we’ve seen the team respond to adversity. However, now it feels more like a direct spotlight being shone on Ty Lue and the coaching staff’s inabilities to come into a series prepared. Configurations to the lineups and rotations are certainly expected at this point, knowing how the Clippers’ staff has operated recently, but will the right strings be pulled this time around in a timely fashion? That process could make for another fascinating chapter in the ongoing tale of the 2020-2021 Clippers’ story or could be its potential conclusion.