The Clippers’ exceptional defensive effort Sunday afternoon in Washington features only two blemishes:
- When the Clips run perimeter traps at the Wizards’ guards, the rotations onto Antawn Jamison aren’t prompt. Jamison is one of the best bigs in the league at finding mismatches or open space off blitzes and he burns the Clippers on a few occasions, keeping Washington in the game longer than they rightly should be.
- Chris Kaman grabs one defensive rebound all afternoon. In contrast, Brandon Haywood and Jamison secure seven and four offensive rebounds respectively. In the first half, more than a quarter of the Wizards points come on second chances. The downturn in Kaman’s offensive rebounding numbers can be ascribed to his playing more pick-and-pop basketball, but there’s no good reason a 7-footer guarding the opposing center should come up with a lone defensive board.
Apart from that, the Clippers grind the Wizards down defensively, giving up only 78 points on 92 possessions.
The reserve unit is particularly stingy during its second and fourth quarter stints. The backups pressure Caron Butler with double-teams early in the second, denying Washington a chance to establish any offensive rhythm. In the fourth quarter, with the Clippers hanging on to a three-point lead, there’s a different defensive dynamic on the floor, but the unit led by Mardy Collins produces the same result: It’s an incredible flurry of activity. Collins, Rasual Butler and Al Thornton each records a block shot within a 90-second stretch upon checking in. 30 seconds later, Chris Kaman cuts off a Caron Butler baseline drive and swats away yet another Washington attempt. Though the Wizards waste multiple possessions early in the game taking ill-advised early jumpers, they’re unable to get anything resembling a clean look when the Clippers make their stand late. For a team that’s had a wretched time putting opponents away in the fourth quarter this season, it’s a laudatory performance. By the time Baron Davis re-enters with 4:00 remaining in the game, the Clippers’ lead is back to 10 and never in jeopardy again.
Another factor for the Clippers’ success: They keep the Wizards off the line, a task they performed horribly in Denver on Thursday night. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that DeShawn Stevenson (a 28.4 percent shooter) takes all seven of his attempts from 18 feet and beyond, Nick Young (69th out of 71 SGs in assist rate) isn’t close on his three heaves, and Caron Butler fires up 13 of his 17 attempts outside the paint (knocking down only 4 of those, and 0-7 on the right side from 18 and beyond). But much of that shot selection we can chalk up to an energized defense that blankets the perimeter. When the Wizards go to their 4 out-1 in scheme (i.e. 3rd, 11:03), the Clippers’ rotation is air tight. There’s a double-team on the ball, with the perimeter defenders ready to move with the pass:
The Clippers’ offense should aspire to score more than a point per possession against a defense as porous as Washington’s, but you know what? Considering Gordon’s absence and the number of bad, 08-09ish shot attempts by Baron and Thornton, it’s not a bad outing by the Clips. One encouraging thing stands out in particular. They turn the ball over only 11 times, which makes absorbing poor shot attempts and missed opportunities on the glass a whole lot easier. Considering the double-teams he confronts most of the day, Kaman puts up an efficient 7-for-10 line from the field (though he coughs up the ball three times), and gets to the stripe for seven free throw attempts.
When Mardy Collins recognizes his strengths (on-ball defense, ball control) and checks his weaknesses (shooting), he can be a useful player in a reserve role. Today he’s a big part of the Clippers’ ability to restore order when the game was teetering on the brink, both in the second and fourth quarters. Whether he can sufficiently hold down the reserve point guard role until Telfair’s return is unknown right now, but the flexibility of using Collins in that capacity and, if necessary, cross-matching him against tougher wings will be a nice luxury to have against deeper teams.
The Clippers continue to be one of the top assist teams in the league, both in assist rate (percentage of possessions ending in an assist) and percentage of field goals assisted. Here are five of the more memorable assists (and a sixth virtual assist that results in two Kaman free throws) from Sunday afternoon: