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The secret to the Clippers’ success in prolific shooting from the field

Clippers forward Patrick Patterson watches his three-point shot go through the hoop.
Clippers forward Patrick Patterson watches his three-point shot go through the hoop against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 18 at Staples Center.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It was true that Minnesota’s defense, one of the NBA’s most permissive, did not exactly help its case against that reputation Sunday.

Clippers forward Marcus Morris was somehow left alone in the corners, where he has made 57% of his three-pointers this season. Paul George dribbled around a screen by Ivica Zubac, saw the nearest defender one long step away and took it as an invitation to add to his career-best 43.7% three-point shooting.

And yet, for all of the Timberwolves-specific breakdowns that contributed to the Clippers shooting 50.6% from the field and making 50% of their three-pointers, it was notable that this wasn’t a one-off performance. Or a second, third or fourth, either.

During a season that has seen the Clippers poised to smash franchise records for shooting accuracy, and approach NBA marks too, Sunday marked their 11th game in 59 chances this season that they have made more than half of their three-pointers while also half of all field-goal attempts. Nobody else this season has done that more than seven times.

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The ball “starts feeling a little small,” on nights like Sunday, guard Reggie Jackson said, “and the basket starts feeling a little bigger.”

Paul George saw his streak of 30-point games end at five games after he finished with 23 points, but the Clippers cruised to a 124-105 win on Sunday.

In the past decade only 11 teams have crossed the 50/50 threshold at least 11 times in a single season, but only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s Warriors (12 times in 2015-16 and 2017-18 apiece, then 14 times in 2018-19 and 15 times in 2016-17) have done it while shooting a volume of three-pointers comparable to the Clippers.

The Clippers’ success speaks to the technical marksmanship up and down their roster: Of the 100 players across the NBA this season shooting 38% or better while attempting at least 100 three-pointers, the Clippers boast seven. No other team has more than six. It has the Clippers on pace to become the first team since the 2015-16 Warriors to make more than 40% of their threes and also more than 50% of their twos.

For all of the myriad metrics that can slice the Clippers’ shooting numbers into ever-greater detail, however, they are a reflection of the common element that underpins it all — the trust in coach Tyronn Lue’s offense that has helped the Clippers flourish.

“We just got high IQ players and we got unselfish players, no one’s out here looking to get numbers or looking to pad stats or looking to get their own,” George said. “We bought in. That’s really the key to it. We bought into team basketball and we know where we’re trying to get to. In order to get there, we need everybody and so the more everybody’s involved, the better we are in the long run.”

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shoots over Houston Rockets' Jae'Sean Tate on April 9 at Staples Center.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Many of the 21 threes that buried the Timberwolves came after at least one, and often two, swing passes that turned an open look into an even more wide-open opportunity. It’s no coincidence that 55% of Clippers shots this season have come with the closest defender at least four feet away.

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“It’s the same thing we’ve been harping on all season is making your teammate better, give up a good shot to get a great shot,” Lue said. “These guys have truly and clearly bought in and it starts with PG and Kawhi [Leonard] and the job they’ve done being scorers and being able to score one on one anytime they want. But also making their teammates better, that’s what’s taking us to the next level right now.

“Kawhi had a good shot he passed up for an extra shot for [Morris] in the corner. Kawhi was wide open. Those things are infectious and you want to play like that.”

The 50/50 feat was more common in the previous decade, but those figures reveal the NBA’s recent three-point revolution and, because of it, the degree of difficulty that has gone into the shooting performances by previous Warriors teams, and these Clippers.

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When Boston shot 50% or better both from the field and on threes 17 times during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, only three of those games featured at least 20 three-point attempts. Phoenix attempted more than 20 three-pointers just six times during its 16 50/50 games in 2008-09 and Utah just three en route to 16 the season before that. Only Mike D’Antoni’s 2009-10 Suns, which took 20 or more threes 13 times amid its league-leading 21 50/50 games, was truly ahead of the curve.

The Clippers still have 13 games left to add to their total. To do it, they’ll have to find at least one new victim: The Timberwolves, after allowing a 50/50 game in all three matchups against the Clippers this season, are mercifully no longer on the schedule.

“You can’t necessarily control the results, but the way we’ve been approaching the game, I think, has been better,” Jackson said. “And it’s been more consistent.”

UP NEXT

AT PORTLAND

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When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, TNT; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Clippers signed Yogi Ferrell to a 10-day contract Monday. He had played with Cleveland and Utah’s G League affiliate previously this season. He takes the 15th and final roster spot that belonged to forward Malik Fitts, whose 10-day deal had come to an end. Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers’ All-Star guard who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, has made 17.9% of his field goals and just one of his 14 three-pointers (7.1%) in two losses this season to the Clippers (40-19). Including its April 6 loss to the Clippers, Portland (32-24) has lost five of its last seven games.


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