Following a loss to the Denver Nuggets last week, Clippers forward Paul George told reporters that he and his teammates “didn’t bring it” defensively against the Nuggets, and spoke more broadly about L.A. needing to create a tough identity on defense that other teams would “fear” — scrappy, energetic with a propensity for making plays.
Sunday afternoon, against a depleted Lakers team once again missing stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Clippers looked a lot like George’s fearsome ideal, wreaking havoc on the defensive end and holding the world champions to a season-low 86 points in an 18-point victory.
In the media availability afterward, two players were mentioned most with regard to defense: center Ivica Zubac and newly-acquired point guard Rajon Rondo.
Zu Better Believe It
The 24-year-old Zubac, who was traded by the Lakers to the Clippers in 2019, has continued to show that he’s far more valuable than his 13.5-minute average with the Lakers might have indicated. His defense, in particular, has provided a boost to the Clippers.
Since Zubac took over the starting center role in March, a result of Serge Ibaka’s back spasms, the Clippers have gone from 15th in the league in defensive rating (111.5) to 10th (110.4) — something head coach Ty Lue doesn’t see as a coincidence.
“After the All-Star break, when he started starting, I think our defense went to another level,” Lue told reporters after the game. “His physicality and his size really matter, and blocking shots and verticality.” Zubac blocked two shots Sunday, but more importantly, his pressure and presence induced the Lakers into missing 21 shots in the paint, including nine layups.
“When guys get beat, [Zuback]’s doing a tremendous job of staying vertical and contesting everything,” said Marcus Morris, who scored 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting.
Coach Lue also referred to several instances when Zubac left the paint to close out on shooters or stayed in front of more agile players on perimeter switches, aspects the Croatian-born 7-footer has improved on since joining the league in 2016.
“He’s able to get out sometimes and switch on the guards and guard those guys pretty well,” Lue said. “Zu’s been doing a fantastic job. I like what he’s brought. He keeps getting better and better each night. We expect a lot out of Zu and he expects a lot of …read more