Clippers

Clippers Seek Consistency in Their Quest for Conference Finals

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The Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in a position they haven’t been in since the 2014-15 season– the Western Conference Semifinals. That year was the most disappointing postseason performance by a Clipper team from arguably one of the best Clipper teams. This year, the expectations are even higher. Blowing a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals is a thing of the past, as the Clippers look to bring a championship to a trophy-less case.

Various struggles emerged in the first round, but the two seed was able to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Although the struggles speak loud, the success speaks louder. Outscoring the most-efficient offensive team in NBA history shows how ready the Clippers’ offense is. With firepower on offense and pressure on defense, the Clippers are looking better than ever. The first round showed the league their strengths and weaknesses that will be the differences for the Clippers moving forward.

Against the Denver Nuggets so far, some of the success and the struggles are on display again. Through two games, the series is knotted at 1-1 after the lowest-scoring performance by the Clippers this postseason in Game 2. Elevating their momentum and keeping their composure are two vital keys for overall success. The series is far from over, but there’s a lot of things the Clippers can be doing better.

Paul George Can Be the Difference

The entire NBA knew what Paul George is capable of doing. Pairing up his offensive and defensive skillset with Kawhi Leonard looked like trouble for the league. After an impressive 25.5 point/game showing in the eight bubble seeding games, George looked to be peaking at the right time. After kicking off a 27-point night again the Mavs in game one, the six-time all-star wasn’t feeling like himself.

Over games 2-4 of the series, George averaged 11.3 points on 21% shooting. During this span, the Clippers went 1-2 and it felt like the momentum was shifting in favor of the Mavericks. In a crucial Game 5, when all eyes were on George to turn it around, he did exactly that, leading the team with 35 points on 66.7% shooting in only 25 minutes. Finishing the series with an all-around performance of 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in Game 6, he showed the NBA he can bounce back and show adversity. He let his doubters know that he is the same player that can be the best shooter on the court on any night.

In Game 1 of the WCSF, George started off with an average night of 19 points on 46% shooting. He started out sluggish in Game 2, but was the leader in the first half when no one could find their shots. He finished with a team-high 22 points in a nine-point loss that felt a lot worse than that. It’s a good sign to see him perform around his averages and the team hopes he can stay that way.

It goes without saying that for the Clippers to be successful, they need PG to be consistent. He is a valuable player on both sides of the court, and a bad night can be detrimental for the Clippers. In his ninth playoff appearance, George knows all about the big moments. He is someone the team will look to when a momentum-changing shot is needed.

Kawhi Leonard Remains Playoff Ready

It’s safe to say that Leonard is the leader of this team and the playoff master. He has the best winning percentage in NBA history and doesn’t know what a season is without a postseason. His two championships proves that he knows what it takes to win in each conference. Coming off his second finals MVP, the pressure is on him to lead yet another team to the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy. For Kawhi, it seems like he’s handling the pressure extremely well.

Leonard is dominating the postseason on both sides of the floor. He finished the first round averaging 32.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game. His PPG and SPG are 5th and 2nd respectively in the playoffs. He has the fourth-most points in the postseason and they are mostly from inside the arc. His consistency has shown that he is ready for the big stage once again and he isn’t letting anyone in his way to his third championship and possibly a third finals MVP.

He kept that same energy with him going into the second round. Leonard opened up game one with a 29-point performance and led the Clippers to a promising victory to go up 1-0. The next game would be a rough one for the four-time all-star, finishing the night with 13 points on 23.5% shooting despite being just two assists away from his second-career triple-double. Even worse is that he played nine-and-a-half scoreless fourth-quarter minutes. One of the worst shooting performances from him and the rest of the team resulted in their first loss in the series.

Defense Must Improve 

Playing one of the best offenses statically in the first round of the playoffs is a tough battle for any defense. With the Clippers having a top-five defense in the NBA, opening up with an offensive juggernaut is a perfect way to find out if your defense is ready or not. According to the first round, the Clippers’ defense could use some work.

The Mavs shot 50% or higher in three of the six games. One of those games included a 21-point comeback that ended in an emphatic Luka Doncic buzzer-beater in overtime. That game wasn’t the only time a double-digit lead was erased in a hurry. Fortunately, those games ended in wins for the Clippers because the offense kept them in the game. Surrendering uncontested threes and wide-open lanes was the story of the Clippers defense at times. They allowed 42.2 baskets/game to the Mavs, which is the fourth-most in the playoffs for the opening round. This won’t help against a team with a better defense.

Each team in the playoffs has one player that is capable of taking over. The Clippers experienced this first hand with the explosion of Luka Doncic in his playoff debut. The sophomore all-star averaged 31 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game. Doncic is a one-of-a-kind talent, but the Clippers will have to defend players with the same kind of attack and mindset. In order to prevent another offensive onslaught, the two-seed from LA must contain the playmakers to force others to step up and make shots. It’s easy for these stars to get hot and confident, and it’s difficult to slow them down when they are in their zone.

Round two is no different. The Nuggets have one of the biggest stories in the NBA with Jamal Murray’s break-out performances in round one. Nikola Jokic that can shoot from anywhere on the court. Murray and Jokic dropped 27 and 26 points, respectively in Denver’s Game 2 win. These two are the backbone of the Nuggets team and when they get hot, the Nuggets are tough to beat.

The Clippers continue their quest for their first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history tonight in Game 3.

About Jordan Taylor

Los Angeles Clippers Writer. Email: jtfsu@outlook.com | Twitter: @jtfsu98

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