The Clippers are now without their most efficient offensive and defensive players, and the consequences of those absences are on full display tonight at the Pyramid. The Grizzlies finish the game with 106 points in their 93 possessions (114.0/100) and they do it by brutalizing the Clippers within 15 feet of the basket and by luring the Clippers into a series of bad defensive decisions.
Memphis scores on its first seven trips, during which the Clippers establish some horrible patterns that plague them all night. On the game’s first possession, the Clippers choose to send help low to Zach Randolph off O.J. Mayo. That’s a silly decision by Rasual Butler, particularly with Mike Conley cutting through to the weak side. Baron Davis offers some help, fully recognizing that Conley is harmless from the weak side corner, particularly if Randolph is the guy who has to make the play. Mayo? Not only is he…well…O.J. Mayo, but he’s also the only pass Randolph can reasonably make out of the post. He does, and Mayo records the game’s first bucket.
Memphis runs the Clips in circles all night — even when the stuff isn’t all that well-executed. Take the game’s third possession, where the Grizz run a couple of stagger screens off which Mayo curls a la Ray Allen. Mayo gets a modicum of separation, but nothing extraordinary. But it doesn’t matter, because as Mayo approaches the elbow to collect the pass from the perimeter (Randolph), both the trailer (Butler) and Gasol’s man (Kaman) run at him. The second Kaman reacts, Gasol breaks for the hole. Mayo hits his big man with a bounce pass en route, and Gasol has an uncontested driving slam.
Gasol beats the Clippers in every conceivable way a big man can dominate a game down low, and we see the full portfolio before the first stoppage. In isolation against Kaman on the left block, Gasol uses a baseline pivot to get some room to launch a little left-handed hook. Twenty seconds later, the Clippers botch a basic pick-and-roll coverage on a Conley-Gasol S/R. Conley draws Thornton courtesy of an early screen from Rudy Gay before anyone gets set that bumps Baron off the Grizz point guard. It’s an ugly mismatch for Memphis, but the Grizz give the Clips a reprieve and go with the initial call — the aforementioned Conley/Gasol S/R.1 What do the Clips do? They look a gift horse in the mouth. Thornton and Kaman trap Conley on the action, thereby allowing Gasol to roll to the hoop unfettered. Credit the Grizzlies for spacing the floor beautifully with Mayo, Gay and Randolph, making any defensive rotation virtually impossible. Personally, I’d have Camby sag on Randolph, not only because Marcus is among the best weak side helpers in basketball (bad back notwithstanding), but because Randolph is the least dangerous of those three Grizzlies from that distance, especially from the left side of the floor, where Zach is set up.
While this mass hemorrhage is occurring, Baron Davis keeps the Clippers in the game on the other end of the floor. He finishes the first quarter with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field and sinks 3 of 5 attempts from the stripe. He does it the smart way — bullying Mike Conley, then a rusty Jamaal Tinsley with his back to the basket. If you’re a strong guard like Baron, a matchup against these two is gold, but the fact that the Memphis bigs don’t provide much in the way of help compounds the advantage even more. Baron takes full advantage, and the result is his finest offensive quarter of the season.
Unfortunately, Baron gives it back in the third quarter when he falls into Alpha Dog mode. With the game teetering on the edge for the Clippers in the third quarter, Davis commits three bad plays. The first comes in transition, where Baron opts for the unsteady 26-foot PUJIT with that scissors kick that accompanies his shot when he’s not set. Over the next couple of minutes, Baron makes two uncharacteristically lazy passes — one a sloppy entry to Craig Smith, the other an errant dish along the perimeter to Steve Novak.
The Clippers’ second unit vaults them back into the game, but then another defensive lapse reverses that momentum. On a Conley-Gasol pick-and-roll, Conley is barely able to nudge his way inside the arc. Gasol rolls, but Rhino diligently stays with him. Meanwhile, Ricky Davis is assigned to Mayo in the right corner. Given everything that we’ve just laid out – a Conley-Gasol pick-and-roll well in check, why in (enter deity here)’s name would Ricky Davis leave Mayo for an instant? For whatever reason, Davis decides to step toward the action, leaving an unmanned Mayo to perform a baseline sprint and flush a lob from Conley for a fierce alley-oop.
Ricky Davis is a respectable on-ball defender, but there aren’t fifteen guys in the league who offer more unwarranted help off their perimeter defensive assignments than Ricky.
Meanwhile, Rasual Butler is pressing and it’s starting to hurt the team. You can’t deny Butler the wide open looks. It’s safe to assume that those will eventually start falling again at a decent clip. But in recent days, Butler has been trying to raise his shooting percentage five points with every shot, launching all kinds of contested, off-balanced, ill-advised stuff off the dribble. The numbers say that he’s doing an above average job on the wing defensively, but his offensive presence is killing the Clippers right now. He simply can’t fill Eric Gordon’s role as the featured ball-side threat on the perimeter, and Rasual desperately needs to return to the weak side corner, where he’s been most successful over the course of his career. Of course, this can’t happen until Eric returns.
- It won’t make any Top 10 highlight reels, but Craig Smith’s 94-foot solo break at (2nd, 9:30) was like watching the big boy in Pop Warner ball rumble to the end zone against kids who are powerless in size and strength to stop him.
- DeAndre Jordan assumes Marcy Camby’s role on the glass, and collects five rebounds during the third quarter while the Clippers are trying to hang on. He collects seven total rebounds in 18 minutes — crucial in helping the Clippers win the rebounding rate battle against the league’s 2nd best glass squad. Jordan needs to go back to basics — worry about nothing but the glass, protecting the hoop, and being decisive defending the pick and roll.
- Ricky Buckets performs well during temps d’ordures. Davis plays the entire fourth quarter and scores 10 points on 5-8 shooting from the floor. Given that Denver starts Aaron Afflalo at the 2, maybe Mike Dunleavy should give Ricky a more extended look as a starter.
1Despite the fact that this possession plays out nicely for Memphis, if you want to know why a team with so much fire power entered the night with the NBA’s 10th least efficient offense, this is why. Another example: the Grizz practically need an engraved invitation to exploit Hasheem Thabeet against Steve Novak in the post after Mike Dunleavy assigns the sharpshooter to the No. 2 overall pick. Can you imagine how little respect Dunleavy (or Hollins for that matter) has for Thabeet’s post game?