The Clippers lost a tough one to the Spurs on Monday, and the play of Kawhi Leonard was a huge reason why.
Leonard finished with a game-high 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds, and even managed to lock up Chris Paul defensively on a few possessions down the stretch.
It was just the latest example of teams exploiting the one major weakness on this Clippers team, which is the lack of an athletic perimeter defender that can slow players like Leonard down. Doc Rivers admitted as much afterward, but said the team needs to find other ways to cover for what he knew would be an issue heading into the season.
Like the Portland Trail Blazers did with Nicolas Batum and like the Golden State Warriors did with Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, the Spurs were able to put an athletic wing on Paul to effectively neutralize him. That’s a luxury the Clippers simply do not have.
“I don’t worry about it because we don’t have it,” Rivers said. “It’s not anything I’m going to lose sleep over. It would be great. I would be a lot smarter coaching-wise if we had something like that, but we don’t. We have what we have. I think every team has some flaws. The key is to cover up for them.” …
“We don’t have that one guy,” Rivers said. “I’m not going to tell Matt, ‘I need you to go stop LeBron.’ I’m not going to tell Chris that or J.J. or Jamal or Reggie [Bullock]. It’s going to have to be a team effort, and we knew that coming into the season.”
Matt Barnes began the season in the starting lineup, and he was serviceable on the defensive end of the floor. The problem was the offense with that lineup, which plummeted significantly with Barnes on the floor. That led to Rivers inserting Crawford to play with the starters as a way to fix things, at the expense of the defense that Barnes provided.
There are no easy answers for L.A. here, and short of a trade to acquire the missing skill set, it’s going to take a team effort defensively to slow the opposing team’s star players. The way things have looked in the early part of the season, it may take some time to develop the required level of cohesiveness.