The Clippers get everything they want offensively Friday night:
- Craig Smith dominates in isolation, taking Phoenix defenders at will on strong dribble-drives to the rack. Smith also plays the pick and roll, running a beautiful set with Eric Gordon at (2nd, 9:54). It’s nice to see Eric making plays, because he’s had a hellacious couple of months handling the ball.
- Gordon gets himself going with a couple of aggressive drives early, two of them in transition (1st, 9:12; 1st, 7:53), then stretches his game out to the arc, as Phoenix is unwilling to chase shooters off the line.
- Travis Outlaw also takes advantage of the Suns’ generosity on the perimeter. He drains a 3-pointer in the second quarter when the Suns inexplicably overload on a Steve Blake-Craig Smith screen/roll, even after Blake has reversed the ball away from the action (2nd, 7:29). This leaves Jason Richardson accountable for both Baron Davis and Travis Outlaw. Richardson is slow to close and Travis drains his first of four 3-pointers on the night. Outlaw picks up another bomb from beyond the arc in transition a couple of minutes later.
- Drew Gooden has some offensive skills, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when you look at his career efficiency numbers. He can run the pick-and-pop (though he doesn’t tonight), has a good enough handle to put the ball on the floor and drive (2nd, 8:50; 4th, 10:42), and though he’s not the master Marcus Camby is, Gooden will get his share of tip-ins at the rim (3rd, 5:58).
Despite putting up an efficiency number of 115.5, the Clippers hemorrhage at the defensive end, surrendering 125 points in 97 possessions to Phoenix (128.9/100). As is often the case with bad defensive efforts, the Clippers cannot defend the Suns’ pick-and-roll, a problem made worse once Kaman is ejected at the beginning of the third quarter for excessive kvetching:
The Clippers aren’t unique here. There isn’t a defense in the league that’s consistently and effectively taken away this part of the Suns’ game. Play Nash straight up (as in the first clip), and he’ll find the angle on the roll. Trap him (as the Clippers do in the second possession above) and you better rotate more quickly than the Clippers do on Friday night. If Amare Stoudemire pops off the screen (the fourth possession above), you have an awful choice to make: Step out on Stoudemire, and he’ll put the ball on the deck and drive past you; play off Stoudemire to protect against the drive, and he’ll drain that face-up jumper from 20 feet.
And here’s the kicker. Once you adjust against the pick-and-roll by sending weak side help, the Suns will swing the ball to the open man vacated by the help. Take a look:
The bloodletting can’t be blamed entirely on pick-and-roll defense. The Clippers give up far too many baskets in transition to a team that finishes the break as well as any. The Suns convert 22 of 25 shots at the basket Friday night, many of them courtesy of run-outs. Whether it’s Jared Dudley’s trailing tip-in at the third quarter buzzer off Goran Dragic’s missed layup, or Grant Hill beating the Clippers’ transition defense down the floor to receive Steve Nash’s gorgeous 30-foot outlet pass for a layup, the Suns find easy baskets all night amid the chaos.