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Ivica Zubac, Patrick Beverley give Clippers new action plan

Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) and teammate Terance Mann react after Zubac was fouled in Game 3.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) and teammate Terance Mann react after Zubac was fouled in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

They have become key contributors for the Clippers when coach Tyronn Lue has called upon bruising center Ivica Zubac and defensive pest Patrick Beverley in the Western Conference finals.

They have been determined performers when Lue re-inserted Zubac and Beverley into the starting lineup in the best-of-seven series against the Phoenix Suns that resumes with Game 4 on Saturday night at Staples Center.

They did not complain when they lost their starting jobs or when Beverley didn’t play in some playoff games or Zubac played sparingly as the Clippers continued to advance in the postseason.

Instead, Zubac and Beverley supported their teammates and waited for their opportunity to contribute, and now both are delivering against the Suns.

“It’s just all about winning and those guys are winners,” Lue said after Game 3 Thursday night. “To be two starters and not play at all in the Dallas series I think in the last four games or five games, and then come into the Utah series and Zu not playing much because we are going small because of [Rudy] Gobert; and Pat the job he did on [Bojan] Bogdanovic, and now we need both those guys to start the game.

“They have been phenomenal. That’s what winners do. They want to win. Whatever it takes, they are going to do that so I’m just happy for those guys to finally get their moment.”

Reggie Jackson had 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter Thursday night to cut the Clippers’ series deficit to 2-1 against the Phoenix Suns.

Zubac and Beverley had defining moments in Game 3, shining with complete games offensively, defensively and on the backboards.

For Zubac, his double-double of 15 points and 16 rebounds — six offensive — was meaningful. He also had two blocked shots, one steal and was a plus-28 in 33 minutes.

For Beverley, his eight points, six rebounds, one block and one steal were just part of his impact on the game. It was his unyielding defense on Suns star Devin Booker that showed the significance of starting Beverley. Booker was five-for-21 shooting from the field in Game 3 and had just 15 points.

Because of their efforts, the Clippers have a chance to even the series they once trailed 2-0. Lue pointed to the defensive workload they took off All-Star forward Paul George, who has to carry the offense with fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard sidelined because of an injured right knee.

“I think starting Pat and Zu really helped our defensive intensity,” Lue said. “With PG having scored and making the plays for our team, I think without him having to guard Booker takes a lot of pressure off him offensively. Pat Beverley and Zu together, that combination is unbelievable.

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“And like I said, Pat is the best rearview challenge guy in the game. He’s going to block the shot from behind, contest from behind and make it hard on you. He gets into the ball. He’s physical and I just think making that change with him and Zu. Zu at the rim with the verticality and Pat to be able to protect him on the pull-up jump shots. That’s been a big change and a big spark to our defense.”

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, right, fouls Suns guard Devin Booker during Game 3.
Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, right, fouls Suns guard Devin Booker during a steal attempt in Game 3 on Thursday night at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

When the Clippers opened the playoffs against Dallas, Zubac and Beverley were in the starting lineup for the first two games, both losses.

Zubac started the third game, but Beverley did not, playing just six minutes.

Thus was the start of Lue making changes to his rotation.

Neither started in Game 4 against the Mavericks, and Beverley didn’t play one minute in the final three games of the series.

Over the course of those seven games, Zubac averaged 14 minutes, 3.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game and Beverley averaged 10.2 minutes and 3.6 points.

In the six-game second-round series against the Jazz, Zubac averaged 13.2 minutes, 5.2 points and 3.2 rebounds and Beverley 17.8 minutes and 4.8 points.

The Clippers were on the brink yet jumped off the court with a Game 3 win that made the rollicking Staples Center crowd scream, sing and, yes, believe.

But Zubac and Beverley have started the last two games against the Suns and played in all three in the series. Zubac is averaging 28.3 minutes, 12.7 points and 10 rebounds while Beverley is averaging 22.7 minutes and 5.3 points and providing stifling defense on Booker.

“We knew since it was the playoffs it’s all about matchups and there’s no egos on this team,” Zubac said Friday. “We’re all here for a bigger purpose and that’s to win a championship. We’re realizing that we got a better chance with different lineups and we knew our time was going to come. We just got to stay ready.

“Even when we were playing less, we were talking to the team, we were trying to be good teammates. We were trying to give advice and we were all watching film together. It’s just about staying ready, and we know in the playoffs it’s about matchups and your playing time is going to depend on the team you are playing.”

Clippers-Suns finals schedule
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)


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