While having an abundance of talent can offset most chemistry issues, coach Doc Rivers will need to determine his final five when crunch time arrives in Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets — and if his Clips pull it off — in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, every Clippers end-game lineup will undoubtedly include Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris. The built-like-a-tank wings can score against locked-in defenses and interchangeably switch on defense.
The fun comes when deciding which two players should surround them. Rivers will have have to choose between offense and defense for the final spots in the rotation. But who should fill them? It could be the difference between winning an NBA title or going home utterly disappointed.
Lineup 1: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell
This is the most recognizable Clippers lineup. It’s composed of the best five Clippers players, but it might not be the best fit. For one, even though Lemon Pepper Lou and Harrell have a mind-meld two-man game, their defense has crippled them in the playoffs.
In the 2018-19 regular season, they held opponents to 108 points per 100 possessions. That number ballooned to 130 points (!) per 100 possessions in the playoffs. So far this year, it’s been a similar story.
In the postseason, this lineup has been slaughtered, which doesn’t align with the eye test. The Clippers have their Batman (Kawhi), Robin (George), scoring guard (Williams), interchangeable wing (Morris) and rim-running big (Harrell). Perhaps they need more time to gel, or maybe Williams and Harrell should not play together down the stretch.
Lineup 2: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley
This lineup is spicy. By inserting Beverley for a traditional big (either Ivica Zubac or Harrell), the Clippers would be going super small, putting the 6-foot-9 Morris at center.
This five-man combo played a grand total of zero minutes all season and has only played six minutes together in the playoffs. While the group performed very well, it's impossible to draw any conclusions on such a small sample size. Sans Lou Will, everyone can switch multiple positions, and all five guys can knock down 3-pointers at above-average rates to stretch defenses to the breaking point.
Doc Rivers can craft excellent lineups with a traditional big man, but this might be his final destination when the game is on the line.
Lineup 3: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac
It might seem blasphemous to not include Sweet Lou or Montrezl, but if Leonard, PG and Morris are getting buckets with ease, it might behoove Doc to bolster the defense. Zubac is not a flashy center, but he possesses the strength to bang with guys like Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic. He’s also a monster rebounder who has incredibly sticky hands. Zubac's shooting an uber-efficient 64% from the field and sets screens like a cinder block. The issue with Zubac is he’s liable to get picked apart on switches and doesn’t threaten defenses with his shooting.
With Beverley, you know what you’re getting: hounding defense, 3-point spacing and timely offensive rebounds, plus a hard-to-quantify toughness that is super valuable in high-pressure situations.
This is LA’s starting lineup, and maybe it should also be its closing one.
The Clippers are supremely talented, and in reality, they can probably choose any one of these lineups and still win. We also never even mentioned JaMychal Green, a solid floor spacer and rim protector, who has performed admirably in the playoffs. However, the Clippers' top lineup is No.2 (Leonard, George, Morris, Williams and Beverley).
The playoffs continue to show that having as many skilled players as possible on the court is the best way forward in the postseason pressure cooker. Traditional centers are inevitably played off the floor in favor of players who can hold their own on defense and sink threes on the other end.
If the Clippers can get past the pesky Nuggets, then the Western Conference Finals should be a barn burner, so buckle up.
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