Prior to Thursday night’s game against the Washington Wizards, Clippers Head Coach Tyronn Lue revealed that he, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George met in Lue’s hotel room to discuss late-game execution.
"Talking to Kawhi and PG yesterday, they came to my room for like an hour and a half to go over different situations and scenarios,” Lue said during his pregame press conference. “What they like, what they didn't. We're working. It's not gonna be perfect every time."
Lue clearly values his two All-Stars’ input when it comes to clutch time, as he should. Coaches can draw up complex plays with multiple actions and off-ball movement, but more often than not, close games are decided based on which team’s star player can get to their preferred spots and hit tough shots.
The hotel room conversation was one that needed to be had. The Clippers have been flat-out awful in clutch minutes (defined on NBA.com as the last five minutes of a game within five points or fewer). The Clippers rank dead-last in clutch net rating, as they have been outscored in clutch minutes by an average of 26.4 points per 100 possessions.
While discussions of their late-game offense are necessary, the Clippers’ poor defense has been hurting them much more in these scenarios. LA is giving up an atrocious 130.2 points per 100 possessions in clutch minutes (also dead-last, seven points worse than the 29th ranked Atlanta Hawks). It’s odd that the Clippers struggle so much on that end given their personnel—four of their five starters have made multiple All-Defense teams.
There is bound to be some noise in these stats; fluke plays, opponent shooting luck and tough calls from referees all contribute to LA’s struggles. (Kawhi Leonard's offensive foul on James Harden, which cost the Clippers a potential win against the Nets, comes to mind). But at some point, with a big enough sample size, these trends need to be taken seriously. The Clippers lost yet another close game on Thursday to the Washington Wizards, blowing a sizable lead and giving up an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw that would’ve at least given the Clippers a chance to win the game.
Lue recently revealed that he hasn’t yet used the majority of his playbook. Perhaps this discussion between him and his two stars covered sets that he’ll be saving for the postseason, where clutch situations abound (and where, as everyone at this point knows, LA has struggled in the past).