Paul George on Clippers evolving style: Playing looser, freer

The Clippers were 1-4 last season as they navigated life without Kawhi Leonard when a seven-game winning streak began on November 1, 2021 thanks to Reggie Jackson’s game-winning basket.

A year later, how things have not changed.

Their record stood at 2-4 while they learned to play without Leonard – again – the Clippers watched as Paul George’s game-winning shot came on Oct. 31 to beat Houston, a finish that was part comeback, part catharsis . The Clippers have won three straight games, a streak that has allowed the team “to breathe a little,” George told the Times after Friday’s 113-106 win in San Antonio took them 5-4.

“We’re in that area where we enjoy playing together, having fun and I think that’s what gets us over the hill,” said George after scoring 32 points against Spurs. “This is progress. Because I think we put a little bit of pressure on. I think we were a bit tight. I think we play a little looser, we play a little freer.

“As always there are things we need to streamline and get better, execution, defence, fluidity on offense but I think in terms of having fun, competing? I think we’re starting to embrace that identity as a team.”

That identity was based on elite three-point shooting and defense that season. Like every other expectation surrounding the Clippers this season, this was quickly turned on its head by the surprise loss of Leonard due to strains in his right knee. He first felt it on October 25 in Oklahoma City, 16 months after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament.

TO Souryal, a 22-year team doctor for the Dallas Mavericks and a former two-year president of the NBA Association of Team Doctors, told the Times in October that stiffness is usually associated with knee swelling. Although Souryal warned that it’s difficult to gauge the extent of the setback because the team didn’t describe who performed the surgery or the type of procedure, “it’s somewhat unexpected to feel stiffness 16 months after surgery,” he said he.

Leonard wanted to play on the night he was feeling stiff, just as he has wanted to travel with the team on his road trips ever since, but the Clippers didn’t allow him either out of caution.

Leonard is “just frustrated after doing all the work [in] the last 15 months and to get to that point and not be physically where he wants to be,” coach Tyronn Lue said Monday. “But he keeps getting better.”

Though victories over Houston and San Antonio — teams expected to play for the draft lottery — won’t cure all of the Clippers’ woes, the team believes the past week has shown it’s getting better at the Coping with a surprise setback kept Leonard from slowly building up his minutes off the bench.

“We’re used to it,” said center Ivica Zubac with a lopsided smile that alluded to last season’s injury-plagued lineup. “We’re used to that. We can’t have nice things, we can’t all be on the floor at the same time, but we have a lot of talented guys. I think PG is leading the way, he’s playing great, he’s taking us onto the floor and we have some talented guys around him who know how to play.”

George was told before the season to play aggressively, even when working with Leonard, and has taken on an even greater workload without his co-star. He has the tenth-highest utilization rate in the league in the six games since Leonard’s absence and 31% of all goals come from Clippers’ points in that span.

The Clippers are 3-3 since Oct. 25 and are still third-worst over that span with 103 points per 100 possessions, while also ranking at the bottom end in terms of assists to turnover. Still, her defense is fourth-best in that span, allowing opponents to shoot just 57% within five feet of the rim, the third-hardest mark in the league, while posting the fifth-best defensive rebound rate after offensive rebound hits her rocky start. That effort was anchored by Zubac, whose 4.5 blocks per 100 possessions is more than double what it has been in the past two seasons. Zubac averages 10.0 points and 11.6 rebounds.

“He’s playing at an elite level right now,” Lue said.

Lue reiterated on Friday that his biggest challenge is getting his reserves to play “right” and hold the lead after another – 17 points this time – was dropped to Spurs in Friday’s first half. Some of these are substitution patterns, with Lue saying he wants to remove Zubac earlier in the first quarter to pair him later with reserves and backup point guard John Wall, who thrives on playing pick-and-roll offense with a big man .

Part of that is shot selection. Multiple passes for an open look? Lue wants that shot taken. But “we must not fall into the trap of just taking the first quick shot,” he said. Friday’s banking unit selection was “not good” at times, Lue said.

Wall said the rally from a 10-point deficit to beat Spurs on the road showed “growth of the team” – but noted that the disappearance of a 17-point lead showed the problems that hadn’t disappeared .

“We have to do a better job as a team if we know the tendencies of what teams want to do,” Wall said. “We gave up too many backdoor cuts and helped too much too much, so we could just do the little simple things better.”

The Clippers could be very close soon. Forward Robert Covington, who has missed two games due to health and safety protocols, is allowed to participate again, and guard Luke Kennard flew back to Los Angeles with the team, a hopeful sign after leaving Friday’s game with a chest condition.

“We’re dealing with some issues with guys — out of our control,” George said. “But we’ll find out. I think people are leveling up. amir [Coffey] come in and play some great minutes for us. Find out again and again [I] Pass it on, it feels different on the pitch right now.

NEXT

vs. UTAH

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

In the air: TV: KTLA; Radio: 570, 1330

To update: Robert Covington’s availability could be significant on Sunday, although a return would likely be under a minute limit. Covington’s outside defense would be helpful against Utah (7-3), who have a league-high three-pointers with 38% of their points.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2022-11-05/paul-george-on-la-clippers-evolving-style-playing-looser-freer Paul George on Clippers evolving style: Playing looser, freer

Emma Bowman

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