After a heartbreaking loss in Game 2 and Chris Paul’s return on the horizon, all looked lost for the Los Angeles Clippers. But these are not your Clippers of yesteryear that would fold when facing the slightest bit of adversity; this is a resilient squad that is deeper and better than the betting market gives them credit for. Ivica Zubac had his best game of the postseason, posting a game-high + 28 plus-minus, Paul George added 27 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists and Reggie Jackson scored 10 massive points in the fourth quarter to lead the Clippers to a familiar Game 3 victory.
It is a win that is somewhat bittersweet for Los Angeles, which could be up 2-1 in the series had it taken care of business in Phoenix on Tuesday night. Over the last two games of the series the Clippers have a + 6.4 net rating, much of that due to a defense that has suddenly been impenetrable. Phoenix has averaged just 105.4 points per 100 possessions in the last two games and Devin Booker has been held to a combined 35 points on 10-of-37 (27%) shooting from the floor. Many will attribute the struggles to Booker’s broken nose, but that would discredit a Clippers defense which has been much tighter with its coverage of Booker, challenging a majority of his attempts over the course of the last eight quarters of play.
Like the previous two series, it took Ty Lue time, maybe too much time, to figure out which buttons to push, but push them he did. After an atrocious second quarter for Rajon Rondo in which he committed three of the team’s four turnovers, Lue pulled the plug. Rondo was not seen again, with most of his minutes going to Terance Mann (32 minutes) or Luke Kennard (21 minutes) the rest of the way. It is hard to say if Lue will stick with these adjustments moving forward, but his rotations in second half seem to show his hand.
Having said all of that, this could be too little too late. Los Angeles blew two winnable games on the road, and still sit down a game heading into the weekend. Cam Payne is injured, and that helps the Clippers’ ability at a comeback, but how often can they get away with these slow starts in series?
Los Angeles is now 9-1 SU and ATS in Games 3-7 of their playoff series this season. It’s a dangerous game to play, but the Clippers have proven through two series now that this is where they thrive.
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Atlanta Hawk at Milwaukee Bucks (-7.5, 226.5)
There was much made of Milwaukee’s defensive game-plan in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta, and on the surface you can understand why. Trae Young exploited the Bucks’ drop coverage defense by putting up 48 points on 17-of-34 shooting, dishing 11 assists and grabbing seven rebounds. It seems that their plan on defense was a complete failure, but a deeper look shows some success.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams combined for just 17 points on 6-of-20 shooting from the floor. Atlanta shot just 7-of-31 from distance and only one player other than Young made more than six field goal attempts. The result was a loss, but if Young is forced to create, assist or score 74.1% of the points his team scores when he is on the floor, like he did in Game 1, is that really a sustainable formula for Atlanta?
That is not to say this is some massive bounce-back spot for Milwaukee today. This figures to be an extremely competitive series, as Atlanta has shown with its ability to exploit Mike Budenholzer’s defense. In the grand scheme of this series, I believe the Bucks still have the pieces to win, but when it comes to covering a number like 7.5 or higher that is a taller task. Young is the perfect player for this defense, and the shooting will likely improve for the other Hawks’ players against a soft perimeter defense, but Atlanta has some problems of their own.
Jrue Holiday had his best game of the postseason with 33 points on 14-of-25 shooting for a reason. Bogdanovic is clearly a step slower due to the knee injury he is dealing with, and there is no other real defensive option for the Hawks in that matchup. Giannis Antetokounmpo might have his limitations in the fourth quarter when the game slows down, but he still dropped 34 points of his own on 14-of-24 shooting. It’s clear Clint Capela or John Collins will not be able to contain the two-time MVP. One would expect Khris Middleton to improve on his abysmal 6-of-23 performance in Game 1, which could be the difference in grabbing a victory.
The Bucks should even this series tonight, but it is hard to believe this Hawks team, given the strengths they have, is eight points worse than Milwaukee.