Clippers’ Portrayed Clutch Failures Not as They Seem


It became very well known in the basketball world that the Los Angeles Clippers fell apart down the stretch during multiple playoff games last season.

That collapse led the organization to make several changes to improve the team. With assistant coach Tyronn Lue promoted to head coach, many questioned the difference it would make since he worked under former head coach Doc Rivers last season. So far, the Clippers have looked more complete, but there have still been a few flaws to address late in games.

Players Stepping Up Through Changes

For the most part, Coach Lue has done a pretty good job of making adjustments in the rotation – a welcome change from Rivers’ questionable rotations. Lue has recognized how Ivica Zubac can be a great presence and underrated weapon to have in the fourth quarter. Other bench players like Terance Mann — who has vastly improved over the last season — have stepped up in key moments. Lue’s also done very well at staggering minutes between Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, which has played a big role in the success of specific lineups this season.

Problems in Clutch Time

Watching the Clippers during their limited time playing in the clutch this year has been a bit worrisome. The NBA defines “clutch time” as the last five minutes of games with a differential of five or fewer points. Kawhi has scored 31 points on 8-28 FG (1-8 from three) in 39 clutch-time minutes across 14 games, while PG has scored 14 points on 3-12 FG (3-11 from three) in 25 clutch minutes across 11 games. Notably, Leonard has a 5-9 record when playing in those moments this season.

The team also averages 33.8% shooting on field goals in the clutch (worst in the league) and sit dead last in net rating. Recently, the Clippers had three bad losses, but their biggest problem came late against the Bucks. In the last four minutes of that game, the Clippers shot 0-9, effectively sealing their own fate in a loss. The performance against Milwaukee sparked the argument of whether the Clippers can succeed moving forward despite their consistent late-game struggles.

Not as Bad as it Seems?

While there is an argument to make that the Clippers are a bad clutch-time team, there are counters to that claim.

Many don’t realize the team does have a very small sample size of clutch minutes. The Clips are tied for the second-fewest clutch minutes played with just 45 during the first half of the season. This sample size doesn’t give a clear indication on how the Clippers can really perform in the clutch.

Last season, the team finished third in the league in offensive rating during clutch time. Additionally, most of their losses in clutch time came after limited rest in the days before.

These reasons, however, still shouldn’t serve as an excuse for their poor final effort against Milwaukee.

Making Adjustments

As LAC’s clutch sample size increases, we’ll get a much better indication of how they perform. But there are things they can change based on their current clutch performances. While Coach Lue has gone with smaller lineups down the stretch, he might need to explore lineup changes in regards to matchups. A big reason why the Bucks beat the Clippers down the stretch was due to Giannis taking over, essentially walking in for multiple baskets.

But Antetokounmpo struggled to score with Zubac on the court. His play could’ve been used down the stretch where Giannis was unstoppable.

Role Players Need to Have Their Roles Established

The Clippers can also use role players more efficiently near the end. Certain players become too reliant on iso-ball. Isolation has its benefits as long as they take advantage of matchups, and the Clips have multiple players that can score at will– it’s just a matter of advantage over the defense. But playing team basketball is also very beneficial as the Clippers can be reliant on threes which are opened up by spreading the ball around. The Clippers just look better when displaying their ability to move the ball.

Serge Ibaka also stepped up big time in the third quarter and could’ve been used more late in the game. With LA needing a spark, Ibaka scored 13 points on 5-6 FG (2-3 from three) in the third quarter. His efforts gave the Clippers a four-point lead heading into the fourth, also finishing the third quarter on a 21-7 run. This season, Nic Batum and Lou Williams have also shot well in the clutch. Batum has shot 4-9 from three and Williams has shot 5-11 from the field (3-5 from three).

In the team’s recent game against Boston, Kawhi did not play and Marcus Morris missed the second half. Most recently against Washington, George and Morris didn’t play. The Clippers were able to stay in each game and even make a clutch time effort with their ball movement, as Luke Kennard dropped 14 and Patrick Beverley 17. Against Boston, Reggie Jackson managed 22 points thanks in part to teammates setting him up.

When they move the ball, LAC plays very well and should continue passing late in games. Despite making a great effort against both teams, the Clippers fell short once again as isolation ball and shot selection hurt them down the stretch.

This Clippers team has potential to thrive late in the game, it’s just a matter of adjusting and finding what works best. As they gain more experience playing in the clutch, hopefully the Clippers will be able to smooth things out to become a more efficient late-game team.

About Griffin Greenberg

Griffin is a Californian native from LA, San Diego, and the Bay Area. He loves watching and playing all sports, actively tweets about them, previously wrote sports articles for his own blog, and he creates sports content on youtube. Griffin is currently in high school and planning on majoring in Sports Journalism in college.

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