The LA Clippers entered the NBA bubble missing a number of rotational pieces but still looked like they had the depth to compete. Now healthy, their depth may be a weakness after all.
The LA Clippers battled plenty of adversity in the NBA bubble before the games even began. With Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris and Landry Shamet all missing time with COVID-19 or other concerns before reporting to Orlando (and in some cases, after as well), the Clippers simply never had the chance to get everybody on the same page until games started.
Once everybody was back, though, it’s fair to assume the Clippers saw the Western Conference playoffs as smooth sailing, at least as far as the conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Through the first six games of the second round, that hasn’t been the case at all.
While the Dallas Mavericks had some fine moments in the first round and pushed the Clippers at times, it’s been the Denver Nuggets who have truly tested them. After falling behind 3-1 for the second straight series (first against the Utah Jazz), the Nuggets have roared back to tie the series 3-3, and they’ve exploited this supposed strength in depth of the Clippers.
In this series, the key reserves have struggled mightily.
Lou Williams has been their offensive sparkplug all season, but he’s been entirely unreliable against the Nuggets. Williams is shooting just 36.8 percent from the floor and 13.0 percent from 3-point range, miles below his 35.2 percent rate from long range on the season. Fellow guard Reggie Jackson has been deemed unplayable by Clippers coach Doc Rivers, playing only five games and averaging 5.8 minutes per appearance when he does see the floor.
Landry Shamet (who was late arriving to the NBA bubble due to testing positive for COVID-19) has been nothing shy of awful. Shamet is shooting 26.1 percent from the floor and 17.6 percent from 3-point range and he is scoring 2.8 points per game on an average of 3.8 field goal attempts.
Worst of all, Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell has had a dreadful series at the worst time possible before entering free agency in the coming offseason.
The LA Clippers have gotten outstanding performances from the usual suspects, especially in the forms of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris, but depth was supposed to be one of the massive edges this team brought into the NBA bubble and the playoffs.
The Clippers are constructed with short-term contracts, so it’s hard to predict what a devastating failure like a second-round loss in a series they once led 3-1 would have on the future. With diminished faith in the supporting cast, would the stars flee at the first opportunity?
It’s hard to believe that an ineffective bench group would have such a devastating impact on the long-term future of the LA Clippers, but as the little brother in town to the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s hard to not see the worst outcome if things go badly in Game 7.
Of course, the Clippers can still correct course with a win on Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets, but the stakes have never been higher for this bench crew.