Five thoughts from today’s win:
- Defense Carries: The defensive rotations are becoming tighter by the game. The traps are coming from all the right places on the floor, off-ball defenders are sagging and providing help off pick-and-rolls, and at least one of the Clipper big men is protecting the rim at all times. During this winning streak we’ve witnessed quite a bit more continuity on the defensive end. Defenders now seem to move with more of a purpose and have more conviction in their reads. A nice example of this is with Marcus Camby. Earlier in the season Camby was afraid to challenge perimeter players because he was unsure if he could depend on the help behind him. Today, we see Camby trust his help and stay directly attached on Michael Beasley’s hip to take away his left hand and force Beasley put it on the deck with his right. This strategy, combined with Gordon’s excellent ball denial skills on Wade, slows the Heat offense way down. The Clippers have now held five of their last six opponents under the 100-point barrier, and have effectively shut down three of the premier scorers in the league in Brandon Roy, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.
- Small Forward Platoon: Today’s game was a nice example of how it can and should work. Rasual Butler once again proved himself valuable to the Clippers first unit by providing the necessary spacing the offense needs to breathe. Al Thornton played his role beautifully tonight as well, coming off the bench and providing efficient scoring (4-for-8, 13 points) in his time with the second unit. Thornton just seems to fit better with the second team. He can have isos and post ups called for him without it feeling forced and disrupting the flow (and spacing) of the offense. With the first team, Thornton just doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t) get the offensive touches he requires to be at his best. Thornton may not be overjoyed to do so, but he makes more sense coming off the bench than Butler does.
- Baron to Kaman: Every team needs its bread and butter play. For the Clippers, it’s all about putting players in the best positions to score, and the Baron-Kaman high pick-and-roll does exactly that: Butler is placed in his most productive scoring area in the weak-side corner, Gordon is on the wing where he thrives, Camby is left unattended to scream towards the offensive glass, Kaman gets to lumber towards the hole, and Baron gets the ball in his hands moving towards the rim. It’s the ideal set for the Clippers, and today it nets impressive results for both Kaman (22 points) and Baron (14 assists).
- Aggressiveness: Mark this down as another win in which the Clippers were simply more aggressive than their opponent. The numbers don’t lie: The Clippers went to the line 33 times to Miami’s 18, and out-rebounded Miami overall by a +13 margin. This sort of thing just wasn’t happening earlier in the season. Try and keep in mind this is all without Blake Griffin, who should excel at drawing fouls and cleaning the glass.
- No Stress: Another impressive performance should warrant more thought into what’s changing about the Clippers. How far has this team come already? Well, I think you can partially answer that question by asking yourself how you felt as the Heat started to make a comeback late in the second half today. Personally, at no point this afternoon did I feel the outcome was in danger. After years of watching Clipper basketball, this strikes me as a little odd. Why wasn’t I pacing violently across my living room? Why wasn’t I going all Jerry Tarkanian on a towel? Strangely enough, it’s because I had faith in the Clippers to get stops and score on the other end if they truly needed to. I pose an honest question to you: Were you as nervous today as you would have been in a similar situation, say, 20 games ago? I’d wager that you weren’t, and that means something.