Even with all the highlight plays and their hot first quarter start, the Clippers still fell to the Lakers tonight 114-108 in the championship game of the Lakers Preseason Shootout Tournament. There were a lot of promising signs for the Clippers early, but the general effort and level of play tailed off dramatically as the game progressed, even with 4 of the Clippers starters playing over 30 minutes. Here are 5 things to take from this preseason tilt:
- Defensive Rebounding- The Clippers let up 11 offensive rebounds, 8 of them going to Andrew Bynum. We’ve spoken at length about the lack of rebounding from the wings (zero boards tonight from Gordon in 34 minutes), but it’s absolutely baffling when this front line gets outworked. Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were no match for the energy level Bynum brought in the third quarter, where Bynum pulled in 4 of his 8 offensive boards. Yes, Bynum is a beast and he’s going to get his, but 8 offensive boards from one guy is borderline absurd. Griffin needs to put people on his backside, Kaman needs to put in a little more effort, and DeAndre needs to work on his positioning when the shot goes up. Craig Smith, all 6’7 of him, hit the boards the hardest of the Clipper big men tonight.
- Forcing The Issue – The Clippers are playing at a much quicker pace this year, to mixed results. A lot of points can be scored through a secondary fast break offense, but sometimes the quick hitter just isn’t going to be there. Outside of the first quarter, where Baron and Gordon were carving up the Lakers interior defense, and Craig Smith’s ridiculous 2nd quarter (15 points!), the offensive sets were either non-existent or very sloppily ran. Kaman in particular was more or less a black hole in the fourth quarter, forcing multiple turnaround fadeaways against Mbenga. It’s no coincidence that the offensive production started to fall off as soon as the ball stopped moving.
- Craig Smith – Game high 26 points, 12-14 from the free throw line, and 7 rebounds. Rhino is brutally effective in the paint offensively, but he’s no slouch on the other end either. Smith isn’t going to contest shots, but he occupies a whole lot of space and does a great job clearing out other bigs. Smith plays hard, hits people hard, and should prove to be a great unconventional scorer for the 2nd unit this season. He won himself some extra minutes in the rotation with his play tonight.
- Pick and Roll – The Clippers used the pick and roll very rarely compared to other NBA teams last year, and when they did use it they were one of the league’s worst at getting points off it. Consider the following though: Baron Davis has had no issue with penetrating and getting into the paint this preseason. His backcourt partner Eric Gordon is very dangerous when he gets momentum and his shoulders square to the rim. Rasual Butler stretches the defense and demands constant attention. DeAndre Jordan is Tyson Chandler-esque off the roll and lob. Chris Kaman can knock down a 17 footer with consistency. Blake Griffin can run and jump to the rim and create all kinds of havoc. The only person not particularly cut out for pick and roll offense is Marcus Camby, but it’s not like he’s incapable of doing it. Quick pick and rolls on the secondary break this year could result in a lot of easy buckets, and if nothing else the pick and roll gets the defense moving and promotes ball movement. A good portion of the Clippers first quarter scoring explosion tonight came off the high pick and roll.
- Clutch Plays – Contrary to what you were led to believe from watching last year’s squad, most NBA games are close in the fourth quarter and are usually decided by 2-3 possessions on average. Tonight, when the Clippers were down and needed a bucket to stay in the game, they looked flat and indecisive on offense. Every team needs a closer, and it has not yet become evident who that person is for the Clippers. Zach Randolph, to his credit, was the Clippers most productive player in the clutch last year, but now that he’s gone who fills that role? Ideally it’s Gordon, but it remains to be seen if Gordon is assertive enough to be that guy.