The case for Jordan Clarkson not getting minutes in the Finals was made before Game 1 even began:
lebron: maybe i can rely on my teammates in the nba finals— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) May 31, 2018
lebron's teammates: pic.twitter.com/8TlW8tuE8p
But Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue didn’t have many other options. On paper, Clarkson makes the most sense against the Warriors as George Hill’s relief. He offers more defensively than the other options Lue could turn to: Jose Calderon, Rodney Hood, or Kyle Korver. Even when opposing teams don’t give Golden State’s offense an inch, they still take a mile. Give them someone like Calderon on defense, and they’re taking a 25-point lead.
So in Clarkson went. He played 17 minutes, during which he shot 2-for-9 from the field. Korver — a man whose sole purpose on the court is to shoot — also played 16 minutes, but attempted six fewer field goals. Clarkson even nearly topped J.R. Smith’s attempts, though Smith not shooting is how his performance will be remembered.
Clarkson’s playmaking skills are a double-edged sword: Yes, he can create his own shot, but that also means he’s the one taking said shot. Through the playoffs, the 25-year-old is shooting 30.3 percent from the field and 23.9 percent from deep. He remains unbothered. In Game 1, Clarkson logged zero assists, and as Reddit user MLSHomeBets points out, he has zero dimes in his last 93 minutes of game action. (Do he and Shabazz Muhammad have the same trainer?) No matter how contested he is, he’s going for it, like this shot to close the third:
JORDAN CLARKSON TIME.... oh pic.twitter.com/fjq7to4Y9n— Good Takes Pod (@GoodTakesNBAPod) June 1, 2018
To be fair, not all of his shots were bad looks. But many of his plays were confounding, like this turnover at the end of the first quarter. Clarkson drives inside, then loses his handle like he walked into a room and forgot what he needed from it:
Something similar happened the play prior:
Jordan Clarkson with that Vincent Adultman hesi dribble. pic.twitter.com/UlJwYi3AME— Danny Chau (@dannychau) June 1, 2018
You have to respect it: Clarkson, after four mildly notable seasons in the league, has a full Mamba Mentality despite none of Kobe’s accolades. Or as The Ringer’s Megan Schuster posed during the game, does Clarkson think the LeBron-Jordan debate is about him?
In a perfect world, or even a decent one, Clarkson would provide a spark for Cleveland. After a poor performance in the Toronto series opener, Clarkson vowed to “find my way” by affecting the game in other ways — rebounding, pressuring the ball, doing “more than just kind of scoring and doing what I regularly do.” In the 10 games since, he’s grabbed 19 boards, but has had only three assists. “More than just kind of scoring” just doesn’t appear to be his “way.”
If Clarkson had been in J.R.’s shoes at the end of regulation, when Smith seemed to forget that the game was tied and held onto the ball, he surely would have shot it. It probably wouldn’t have gone in, but he still would’ve had the gusto to try. But if Clarkson had only made a couple of his attempts, or passed them off to open teammates on the perimeter, J.R. may not have been in that position in the first place. (Yes, many other bad moments from many other Cavaliers led to it, too.)
Perhaps in the years to come, we’ll grow fond of Clarkson’s irrational confidence the way we have with Dion Waiters or Nick Young. But this postseason, he’s missing what makes those two so delightful: To become a heat check guy, there at first must be fire.