Key #2: LeBron James’ on-ball defense
LeBron James has either been widely praised or criticized for his help (or unhelpful) defense. His on-ball defense gets much less scrutiny. I am more interested to see how LeBron guards Kawhi Leonard. LeBron is by far the most viable choice to defend Kawhi. Nobody else on the Lakers except for Talen Horton-Tucker can match up.
Kawhi is the key for the Clippers winning tonight. Legendary football coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots once said his defenses always strive to take away what the opposing team’s best players like to do, per an article on The Ringer.
LeBron has to shut down Kawhi for the Lakers to win. The key to defending Kawhi is to catch up to his unique rhythm. LeBron has to be lightning-quick on his feet to square up to Kawhi, whose stop-and-start style is very tough to guard. His mid-range jump shot is one of the toughest moves to defend in the NBA.
LeBron also has to bulldoze his way through the ball screens the Clippers will run for Kawhi. The Lakers should double team Kawhi on the Clippers’ pistol action, when Kawhi receives a handoff off an off-ball screen. The Lakers cannot let him catch the ball cleanly and hold it for 5 seconds.
Of course, in their most recent regular-season meeting, LeBron shut down both Kawhi and Paul George, now known as Postgame Speech P, in the game’s final possession. Postgame Speech P was the only one complaining after that play.
To make things worse for the Clippers, their new coach Tyronn Lue coached LeBron for four seasons on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lue’s insight on LeBron is not anywhere near as impactful as LeBron knowing every single one of Lue’s sets. He knows exactly how the Clippers are going to get Kawhi the ball because Lue gave him the exact same role in Cleveland.
Unless Kawhi scores over 30 points, it will be nearly impossible for the Clippers to win. LeBron has the opportunity to win the game for the Lakers on defense.