Posting an 87.7 offensive efficiency number against the league’s most porous defense requires a special level of bad execution and indifference. The best illustration of this comes at the conclusion of the first quarter, when the Clippers watch a one-point lead evaporate, leaving them with a nine-point deficit at the quarter break. They fail to score on 10 straight possessions. Sacramento establishes a double-digit lead fewer than three minutes into the second quarter and never relinquishes it. The loss is particularly dispiriting because the Clippers, by their standards, have been playing fairly well since Zach Randolph rejoined the team after serving a two-game suspension. The victories against Golden State and Boston weren’t complete efforts, but the Clippers got the job done against a team that plays a style of ball that tests the Clippers’ strengths, and one that plays a style that’s generally fluent to the point of flawlessness.
Were the Clippers simply missing high-percentage shots? How lazy was their execution? The Clippers’ lineup is Baron-Jones-Collins-Randolph-Camby. Let’s take a look:
- [1st, 4:57] Davis, guarded by grizzled vet Bobby Jackson — who does great work on the Clippers PG all night — calls for a high screen from Camby. The Clippers get the switch, though with Camby 20 feet from the basket, this isn’t exactly an exercise in shot creation. Nevertheless, with :11 still on the shot clock, Camby deliberates, first with a shot-fake, then hoists a bad-looking shot. The crazy thing is that the first look was considerably better than the second because the fake gives Spencer Hawes time to recover and close on Camby. The shot barely grazes the rim.This might be a good time to discuss Eric Gordon’s absence. What else does Camby have on this possession? Not much. He could kick it out to Fred Jones on the perimeter to his left. Jones has Kevin Martin — a player I like a lot, but one who’s as responsible as anyone for Sarcamento’s defensive woes.
No disrespect for Jones, but that option for Camby would be a lot more attractive if it’s Eric Gordon, who could take Martin off the dribble with an assertive left-handed drive. One of the striking things about this game is how little of the Clippers offense is precipitated by penetration. Eric Gordon is the catalyst for that, and much of the rigor mortis we saw at the end of the Boston game and in Sacramento is a byproduct of his absence.
- [1st, 4:13] The Clippers push the ball up after a long Jackson miss. Baron draws Martin as his defender in transition, and wastes little time challenging Martin off the dribble. Baron gets into the paint with relative ease, but hits traffic inside. I haven’t seen a lot of Jason Thompson, but his defense hasn’t impressed. Here, though, he does a good job on help. By the time Baron reaches the basket area, there isn’t much for him. Baron tries to draw contact against Thompson — and probably does – but there’s no call. Baron’s wild attempt floats in the air and is collected by Hawes, who delivers a perfect outlet pass to Francisco Garcia, and the Kings convert one of their easier breaks of the night.
- [1st, 3:56] The Clippers go immediately into Zach Randolph off the right block against Thompson. Randolph tries to make progress against the defender with his right shoulder, but doesn’t make much progress. Randolph decides to pass out — credit the instinct — but his pass is atrocious. He lobs the ball, intended for Camby, into a scrum inside. It’s effectively a jump ball, only the Kings have 2.5 players to Camby’s one. Predictable result, and the error ignites another Kings break that’s punctuated by an easy driving slam from Thompson. The crowd is into it for the first time, and the Clippers call time.
- [1st, 3:34] Al Thornton checks into the game for Collins. Ricky Davis replaces Baron, which slides Jones to PG. Again into Randolph in the post, which is the best first option the Clippers have, so no fault there. Zach gets doubled, and this time his pass out is a good one — to an open Ricky Davis at the top of the arc. Ricky’s shot is long, but Randolph grabs the offensive rebound. His chippy left hook putback attempt misses, though.
- [1st, 2:51] The ball quickly goes to Camby at the top of the arc. Generally, I like Camby on the perimeter facilitating offense from there, but here he tries to force a tricky entry pass into Randolph in the paint. There’s just too much traffic. Another turnover, which gives the Kings another easy break.The Kings put up an offensive efficiency number of 106.7 in the first half and, as we’ve seen, it’s built largely on transition buckets off bad Clipper misses and turnovers. The Clippers halfcourt defense is actually passable in the first half; it’s those easy breaks that pad that number.
- [1st, 2:34] Probably the best-looking Clipper offensive possession of the sequence, and one that captures the Kings’ atrocious defense. After Camby slips a high screen for Jones and rolls, a discombobulated SAC defense sends three men to pick up Camby from 15 off the ball. From the outset of the play, nobody has accounted for Al Thronton on the weak side. Al makes a good decision here. With nobody on him, he moves from the perimeter to an open spot at the foul line. Jones makes a good pass to Al there. Garcia recovers and picks up Thornton, but this leaves Randolph somewhat open on the left block. Hawes closes, but Randolph is already into his baseline spin move. He gets an easy, easy 5-footer — a shot he makes more often than not — but this one misses. Randolph finishes the first half 3-9 from the field with a 33.9% TS percentage. Ick.
- [1st, 2:08] Jones pounds the ball into the hardwood, and the shot clock is already down to :11 before the Clips get into their offense. We’ve said it a zillion times over the past couple of season, but this is one of the Clippers offense’s worst habits. Futzing around for half the shot clock gives you fewer options, less margin for error, and causes players — when they finally get a look — to rush their shots. The Clippers phone this one in. The ball goes to Thornton on the left wing at about 17 feet. He’s guarded by Garcia, but launches the contested 18-footer — a shot he has no business taking with :09 on the clock.Al is a woeful 36.4% shooter on 2-point jumpers, and I imagine that percentage drops considerably when the shots are contested. Why does a team’s offense hit the skids? This is why — a bad shooter taking a worse shot.
Fortunately, the offensive rebound comes out to the Clippers and they reset. The ball goes into Randolph, against Hawes this time. Zach passes out to Ricky Davis behind the arc, and Davis misses another uncontested 3PA that grazes the front of the rim.
Regarding Ricky. What are the Clippers accomplishing here? He’s posted a 44.5% TS, 31.2% from beyond the arc, a PER of 7.10, a two-year adjusted plus/minus of -4.72, and an embarrassing offensive efficiency rating of 92. In what universe does this help your ball club? The problem is that he’s got a 2-year, so I’m afraid the Clippers are stuck with him.
- [1st, 1:03] Another wasted possession. The ball goes to Thornton on the right wing early. At :18, he launches an 18-foot jumper, this one barely contested, but it misses badly.It’s understandable that Al wants to get “back in the groove,” but he’s killing his team during a stretch when the game is getting away from them. Worse is that the long miss gives the Kings another opportunity for early offense. The Clippers don’t have time to get set defensively, and the result is an easy layup for Andres Nocioni.
- [1st, 0:48] Jones and Novak run a pick-and-pop, only Novak can’t handle Jones’ easy pass because he’s already focused on the basket. Novak doesn’t turn the ball over much — a TOR of about 5, which is very low — but here it hurts.
- [1st, 0:10] Randolph collects the rebound on the other end, then dribbles the ball up the length of the court himself. Despite the short clock, Randolph moseys with his dribble into the backcourt guarded by Hawes. While the play certainly isn’t as bad as this, it’s still abominable. The 35.6% three-point shooter launches a contested 3PA at the buzzer. He never looks for anything else, including a much-better 3P shooter on the other side of the arc who’s pretty open in Novak.
Sacramento doesn’t play bad defense, but the Clippers have the wrong guys taking the wrong shots. Along with the hellacious turnovers and failure to convert the easy looks, this absolves the Kings of having to do much of anything. We also see that with bad shots comes easy transition opportunities for the other side, so what could’ve been a 4-0 run for the 26th most offensively efficient team in the league compounds into a 10-0 spurt.