It’s another transitional game for the Clippers, but one in which their defensive liabilities are on full display.
The Clippers surrender 11 3PMs, and give up even more open looks than that from beyond the arc. For all of Marcus Camby’s prowess as a help defender, he’s a liability when assigned to a big who likes to hang out on the perimeter. In the Nets’ eleven games coming into tonight, Yi Jainlian had taken only 25 3PA — fewer than 2.3/game. Tonight, matched up against Camby, he gets off five 3PAs, almost all of them wide open looks. The flurry begins at the outset of the second half. At the 11:29 mark, Yi wanders out to the arc. It’s not as if Camby makes a deliberate choice here to help or double off his man. Even if Camby decides he wants to be a vigilante, there’s no one to rotate over on Yi — he’s the end of the line out on the weak side perimeter. It’s the easiest assist of Devin Harris’ career: He passes it over to a wide open Yi, who buries the 3PM. A minute and a half later at the 10:00 mark, Yi gets another wide open look off a S/R, in which Camby drops back into the lane, a good ten feet off the play. You don’t get the impression Camby sags because he thinks Yi is going to drag toward the hole. It’s more programmatic than that. Camby just isn’t the kind of big man defender who’s going to chase his guy out to the arc, even if that guy is a bona fide three-point threat. This hasn’t been a problem for Camby for most of his career, because he’s usually guarding 5s. Apart from Brad Miller and a couple of others, there aren’t many centers who need to be guarded outside of 15 feet. Unfortunately, the subset of power forwards who demand attention away from the hoop is much larger. This dynamic — Camby on a outside-minded PF — killed the Clips early against Houston and it burns them tonight.
There’s no nice way to say it: The Clippers’ principal wing players are atrocious team defenders. Al Thornton is rarely where he’s most needed on a defensive possession. Let’s take a look at the fifth of Yi’s 3PAs at [4th, 7:25], a wide open attempt that he misses. The Nets run a high S/R with Harris and Lopez. Kaman wisely anticipates it and, since Lopez has limited range, sets up defensively at the foul line in anticipation of the Harris penetration. Chris does a nice job of staying in front of Harris. Novak cheats over from the weak side, just in case. Taylor’s recovering from behind. Thornton is on Yi, who is trying to set up position just off the mid left-post. As Harris turns the corner, Yi relents and floats out to the arc. This is almost certainly by design. Thornton doesn’t need to help on this play, but what’s worse is that he doesn’t really give any. What Al does is diddle at the help line. He doesn’t bother Harris enough to disrupt a pass out to Yi, nor does he sufficiently deny Yi the easy look. On this play, he offers all the disadvantages of a help defender with none of the benefits of a stay-at-home defender. The problem for Al and the Clippers is that this is a pattern. There’s a moment at [1st, 5:09] with the Nets in transition when Thornton picks up Devin Harris. It’s a noble instinct — the Clips aren’t set defensively and since Al is near the ball, he wants to make sure that it’s guarded. But things start to settle as Harris dumps it into Lopez in the post. Bobby Simmons, who has been trailing the play, has just entered your picture. He casually makes his way to a spot on the left wing. Lopez sees Bobby wide open, and kicks it out to him. Al tries to close with the same desperate lunge he pulled in the San Antonio game when he forgot about Michael Finley, but it’s too late. It’s the same dance employed by scores of defenders who’ve never fully grasped the nuances of NBA defensive rotations. Simmons drains the 3PM. The same sequence occurs a few minutes earlier, at [1st, 8:10]. The Nets are in transition before Harris pulls the ball back out and sets up. Thornton, who gets some credit for having blunted the break by staying with Harris the whole way, forgets that his man is trailing the play. The ball ends up in Simmons’ hand with no Clipper within ten feet of him. 3PM.
Ricky Davis is altogether useless on Vince Carter. He gets beat off the dribble, off the ball [there’s a point at about 4:38 in the 3rd when Carter slips underneath R. Davis for a lob pass and easy lay-in], on rotations, on the break, etc, etc, etc. Eric Gordon is still learning how to defend S/Rs. There’s a moment early in the 4th when Keyon Dooling and Sean Williams screw with him on a screen and a reset, which earns Dooling a clear path to the hoop off the dribble. Steve Novak presents challenges defensively because he’s really slow. And Mike Taylor still gets taken out of plays when big men lay him out on high screens. At first blush, I thought this cockamamie idea of playing Kaman-Camby-Randolph together on the floor was ludicrous. I still do. But as a defensive strategy against most teams, it can’t be much worse than what the Clippers have working now.
The Clips shoot about 47% from the floor and have a positive night at the offensive end. There’s a lot to like about Thornton’s offensive game right now, the last few minutes of the game notwithstanding. But with the exception of the straight-up post defense of Kaman, Skinner, and B. Davis — and the Camby’s interior help when the action shifts to within 10 feet of the hole — the Clippers are a horrendous defensive squad right now. That’s not going to change anytime soon.