Clippers need answers quick to come back from 0-2 hole

Published May 28, 2021, 9:45 AMJon Carlos Rodriguez

The LA Clippers were unable to keep up with the Dallas Mavericks in Games 1 and 2. And they must make a few tweaks to make this a series.

It’s the playoffs, and the Los Angeles Clippers are in trouble again. Not quite the same trouble they faced the last time, when a 3-1 series lead slowly disintegrated right before their eyes.

This time, the Clippers are in a deep, 0-2 type of trouble. 

This shouldn’t have been the case. After last year’s shocking turn of events, the Clippers made some changes, both in the coaching ranks and the supporting roster around franchise cornerstones Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Head coach Doc Rivers is gone. Bench stars Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are out. Replacing them are Tyronn Lue, Serge Ibaka, and Nicolas Batum. Add Rajon Rondo to the mix, and the 2020-2021 Clippers’ dared to erase the dark memory of the past. 

Yet here we are, in a familiar troubled state for the Clippers.

While they were able to handle their first-round business against the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s playoffs, the Clippers this time around are finding it difficult to handle one quarter against the Mavs.

They’re being outplayed from outside and shackled on defense—two things that should’ve been Clipper-owned. Instead, it’s the Mavs that are shooting the lights out and it’s LA allowing Dallas to score 113 in Game 1 and 127 in Game 2.

Where’s the defense? It’s there trying, desperately chasing Luka Doncic as he hits Dirk-approved, one-legged 3s. 

In Game 1, the Clippers threw Patrick Beverley on Luka and the result was a 31-10-11 triple-double. In Game 2, the Clippers threw everything at him—including Kawhi Leonard—but he got even more buckets and ended up with 39 points. 

It was as if Luka, following last playoffs’ exit, spent the offseason shadow boxing with the Clippers in mind. He was already a problem then, he’s a bigger problem now. What a scary concept.

But down 0-2, heading to Dallas for Games 3 and 4, the Clippers don’t appear worried. What is Paul George’s level of concern?

“I mean, there is none,” he said after Game 2. “We just got to play our game. We got to play through this.”

At the rate the Mavs are playing (and shooting), the Clippers will have to play in their most perfect way to steal both games in Dallas. Luka will get his, a fact that PG himself has resigned to, but everyone else in white and blue can’t have this much fun.

If they continue to blitz Luka and force him to make a pass, those on the receiving end shouldn’t have, say, a career-night shooting 3s like what Tim Hardaway Jr. had in Game 2. 

The Clippers are the league leaders in 3-point shooting at 41 percent, and they will have to be that and better if they want to beat a hot Mavs team with all the confidence in the world. The 11-of-40 from 3 in Game 1? Can’t let that happen again. The 13-of-33 from 3 in Game 2? Make it better.

Perhaps they’ll find their shooting touch in a more hostile environment in Dallas? Crazier things have happened this season.

Point is, the Clippers have no room for error now. We’re at the point in the Kawhi-PG era where hard questions must be asked. How the two superstars respond will dictate how the Clippers’ playoff run will end, either in frustration or celebration.

It’s not even about the numbers now, but more of how the leaders can steer their team to steadier ground.

The last time things didn’t look good for the Clippers, they were the team with the upper hand that just couldn’t close. They’re now on the opposite end, faced with the challenge of coming back to shock. For their sake, maybe it was meant to be this way.