Teams are getting wise to the Clippers, and you can tell just by the way they defend Eric Gordon. When Eric has the ball up top, the defense snaps to attention — not just EJ’s man, but the interior guys, too. They watch the rookie intently as he sizes up the court. On the Clippers first possession of the game, Gordon and Zach Randolph run a slip screen on the right side. How do the Raptors defend it? By trapping Gordon, even though he’s moving away from the basketball and Randolph, a prolific scorer, runs to one of his favorite spots on the right side of the floor — about 17 feet from the basket just off the baseline. Gordon swings a cross-court pass to Randolph, who drains the open jumper.
The Clippers run that set again the next trip down to the same effect, only this time it’s Baron and Randolph on the left side. After that, Baron commits three turnovers on the next three possessions, and the Clippers never find their footing offensively. Parker attaches himself to Gordon and rarely leaves him, not even to double Randolph down on the block. The Raptors make the same decision Detroit made on Friday — chase the Clippers’ shooters and make Mike Dunleavy’s squad beat you inside.
The Raptors also do something they’re not accustomed to doing — bludgeon their opponent on the glass. The Clippers get out-rebounded 57-34, including a 14-2 margin on the offensive boards. Of all the maladies that afflict the Clippers these days, bad rebounding might be the most acute, and they’re now 28th in rebounding rate. The Clippers’ wings continue to rank last in the league on the glass, and it’s costing the team possessions. Shawn Marion abuses Fred Jones all afternoon [i.e. 2nd, 5:58], and finishes with five offensive rebounds all his own. It’s not entirtely Jones’ fault. With Marion at the SF for Toronto, it’s a lousy day to start your 6′ 2″ backup guard at forward.
It’s a strange game all around. Despite some ugly-looking final numbers, Toronto has a very efficient first half, racking up a 105.9 offensive efficiency rating against another lousy defensive effort by the Clippers. Whether it’s because they haven’t played together, or because they’re slow, the Clippers have become one of those teams who can’t adequately defend the pick-and-roll [1st, 8:40; 1st, 0:08; 3rd, 5:01]. Let’s take a look at the set that effectively ends the game, at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter when the Raptors go up by 20 points — a lead that never narrows:
Shawn Marion’s stock has dropped precipitously since he left Phoenix over a year ago, but he’s still a guy I’d love to have at a reasonable price. He can defend four positions [which makes life so much easier defending the S/R], rebound like a fiend, and can move the rock around. Here, he’s the ball man on the S/R with Bosh out beyond the perimeter on the left side. Bosh is guarded by Kaman, Marion by Mardy Collins. Kaman anticipates a trap or a switch, so Bosh immediately breaks for the hoop.
Who’s supposed to rotate? I’d say it’s the guy guarding Jake Voskuhl away from the basket a couple steps off the lane, wouldn’t you? That guy would be Zach Randolph. And that guy literally watches Bosh breeze past him. Easy two.
This is exactly why you can’t really “hide” a guy defensively in the NBA. At some point, your opponent will exploit the soft spot in the defense, even if it’s not in a man-to-man situation. Though he’s assigned to an offensive nonentity like Jake Voskuhl, Zach is still a liability. This isn’t an isolated incident this afternoon for Randolph [1st, 2:16; 2nd, 3:20; 3rd, 6:19]. Let’s take a look at yet another, [2nd, 1:13]:
Again, it’s a high S/R, this time Jose Calderon/Joey Graham. As a rule, if the defense is going to trap the ball off the screen, someone needs to pick up the roll man as he dives to the hoop. Otherwise, if the pass is on the money, it’s a clean layup. Here, both Randolph and Novak are late, and Joey Graham gets an easy goal.
Randolph has a tremendous offensive first half, but when you have a power forward who isn’t in the business of back line or help defense, you’re going to give up a lot points in the paint. There’s a reason the Clippers defended the interior so well during the Brand era, and why teams are gorging themselves underneath against the Clippers over the past few weeks. Randolph plays 18 minutes during the first half today. During the 11 Toronto possessions that Zach is not on the court, the Raptors score only 5 points [0.45 PPP] on 2-13 FGA. During the other 41 possessions, they score 49 points [1.20 PPP] on 20-39 FGA.
These observations of Randolph aren’t a product of any vendetta, fixation, or prejudice. In fact, they date back a couple of years. So until proven otherwise, I’ll continue to insist that a team cannot succeed defensively so long as Zach Randolph is getting heavy minutes. The power forward position in the NBA simply doesn’t work that way.