The Whiteboard: Stress-testing Nets depth, Clippers’ shooting and more

Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, The Whiteboard

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Tonight’s games feature the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers trying to even their series with the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz, respectively. And on Tuesday, the Brooklyn Nets face their biggest test of the season.

Can the 76ers keep Trae Young quiet?

In the two games since the 76ers made Ben Simmons the primary defender for Trae Young, they’ve outscored the Hawks by a total of 32 points. Young has still averaged 24.5 points and 9.5 assists per game in the two losses but they’ve succeeded in making him work a little bit harder for everything and carved away a bit of his primacy in Atlanta’s offense. In these two most recent games, Young has attempted just 16.5 field goals per game, down from 22.3 per game in the playoffs to that point.

However, the formula didn’t work quite as well in Game 3 as it did in Game 2 and a player of Young’s talent and skill level will eventually find counters. He attacked a bit more quickly in Game 3, giving himself more runway to create separation from a trailing Simmons. He also used any opportunity to exploit a switch, particularly Tobias Harris. In Game 3, Young ended up with just over five partial possessions with Harris as his defender and on them, he produced 7 points and a pair of assists.

Can the Nets win without Kyrie Irving AND James Harden?

The Nets played just 286 minutes (a little under seven fulls games’ worth) with Durant on the floor and no Kyrie or Harden. Those minutes covered stretches both before and after the Harden trade, as well as the addition of Blake Griffin, so there is a lot of variance in the supporting cast that was working around Durant. For example, Joe Harris and Jeff Green (who is also out for the series) were the only two players who shared the court with Durant for more than half of his Harden- and Kyrie-less minutes.

Regardless, it largely worked. The Nets outscored opponents by an average of 13.4 points per 100 possessions in those minutes and Durant was a human flamethrower — averaging 35.1 points per 36 minutes on a 75.1 true shooting percentage. Harris was as dangerous off-the-ball as when he had all of the Big 3 exerting their gravity on the defense — he hit 20-of-42 from beyond the arc (47.6 percent on 7.9 attempts per 36 minutes) when sharing the floor with just Durant.

However, Durant might need to keep playing at that absurd level to buoy the Nets’ offense if Irving can’t go in Game 4, and the Bucks defense presents a much higher level of difficulty. P.J. Tucker has done a decent job in suppressing Durant’s efficiency in the series and not having another true primary creator to worry about means the Bucks can be a little freer in letting other players like Khris Middleton or even Giannis help share some of the on-ball responsibility.

To the question of whether the Nets can still win Game 5 and eventually the series without Kyrie and Harden, the answer is absolutely yes. But they’ve lost the momentum and probably favorite status if it’s confirmed that Kyrie can’t play in Game 5.

Can the Clippers shooters keep coming up big?

Paul George’s 31-point breakout was the narrative headline from the Clippers’ season-saving Game 3 win over the Jazz, but hot-shooting from their role players was just as important. George hit 6-of-10 from beyond the arc but Nicolas Batum, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard and Terance Mann also combined to hit an eye-popping 12-of-18. Mann hadn’t attempted a 3-pointer in the first two games of the series but the rest of that grouping had hit 59.2 percent through the first two games of the series.

All that is to say, the Clippers’ offense has been very healthy in this series and they don’t necessarily need Kawhi and George to dominate. Even with some regression to the mean from their outside shooters, the Clippers can win without Kawhi and George combining for 65 points as they did in Game 3. The important thing is that duo maintaining efficiency and keeping pressure on the defense so that there’s plenty of open space for their teammates. And, of course, holding up at the defensive end/


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