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Clippers coach Tyronn Lue proving as good as advertised at game of adjustments

When the Clippers introduced Tyronn Lue as their next head coach, Steve Ballmer said he especially was impressed by the coach’s reputation as a thinker and a tinkerer.

“Not that I’m an expert in game management and Xs and Os,” Ballmer, the Clippers’ owner, said last October. “But all of our staff says Ty sees the game as good or better as anybody that you’ll ever meet, which I think is awesome.

“I tell you,” Ballmer added, “Ty’s my kind of guy. He wants to move, move, move, learn new things, absorb, think new thoughts, which I think is essential to be better, to grow.”

That evolution of thought has been plenty apparent in both of the Clippers’ series this postseason.

In both, the Clippers fell behind 2-0. In both, Lue and his staff adjusted their strategy mid-series, altering lineups and rotations, on-court tactics — and getting all-important buy-in from the actors on (and off) the court. Both series wound up tied, 2-2.

The Clippers eventually defeated first-round opponent Dallas in seven games. Now, in Round 2, they’re headed back to Salt Lake City for Game 5 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals on Wednesday — where it’ll be the top-seeded Jazz’s turn to try to make revisions that could help them avoid losing a third consecutive game for the first time all season.

It’s hard to say how much momentum matters in a postseason when every game feels like its own standalone episode, but what’s clear is what the Clippers did the past two games at Staples Center worked. After losing the first two games by a combined nine points, they outscored Utah by a total of 40.

Defensively, the Clippers ratcheted up the pressure on Donovan Mitchell, dedicating a help defender to stay within a few steps of the Jazz’s elite scoring guard at all times. Additionally, Lue settled on a flexible, small-ball lineup — the 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum is back in the starting lineup in place of 7-0 Ivica Zubac — that’s proved capable of rotating effectively to the shooters around Mitchell.

“Once you watch film and kind of break down what the other team is doing, it helps a lot,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. said. “We always say this is chess, not checkers. It’s about critiquing the game and figuring out what works for us, and like I said, every series is going to present something different.”

So on Saturday, Lue entered new coordinates, and his players — keyed by All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — provided the robust effort necessary for some suffocating defense, especially early in Game 4, when the Clippers had three deflections and two turnovers in the first three minutes.

Without any clean looks (or All-Star point guard Mike Conley, who’s missed every game with a strained hamstring), Utah’s offense was limited to the isolated creativity of the 6-foot-1 Mitchell — on a gimpy ankle — and Jordan Clarkson, a dangerous but erratic scorer.

The result: The Jazz shot 6 for 21 from the field in the first quarter, when they had as many turnovers as shots made and scored a postseason-low 13 points.

“We knew it was coming,” Mitchell lamented after Monday’s loss, to which he contributed a game-high 37 points on 9-for-26 shooting. “We knew how they were going to do it. But I think we shot ourselves in the foot a few times with the turnovers.”

On the offensive end, Lue has been remarkably up front about the Clippers’ desire to seize the opportunity to attack the basket whenever it’s Derrick Favors manning the post and not Rudy Gobert, the Jazz’ three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Lue said as much plainly, publicly before Game 3: “We know when Favors comes in the game we want to try to attack downhill and get to the rim. With Rudy in the paint we want to take advantage of him being there and making 3-point shots.”

True to Lue’s word, in the past two games, 51 of the Clippers’ 106 field goal attempts when Gobert was on the floor were from 3-point range. With Favors in the game, 20 of their 53 looks were from deep.

The idea: To both lure Gobert away from the basket and to create space to operate as far away from the 7-1 defensive stalwart as possible.



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