What, if anything, do the Clippers do well on the defensive end?
Perhaps it’s not fair to raise this question after the Clips got lit up for 118 points, but let’s tackle it nonetheless.
Protecting the rim
The Clippers don’t have the personnel to do it. Chris Kaman may stumble into a few blocks, but he’s not exactly a weakside presence. Drew Gooden rarely leaves his feet to defend at the rim. Craig Smith is just too short. DeAndre Jordan is regularly out of position. The roster as currently constructed just doesn’t pose a threat to teams who want to penetrate and score at the hoop.
There’s a possession at [2:55, 2ndQ] that illustrates the problem. Spurs D-League call up Malik Hairston gets the ball on the right wing and runs a pick and pop with Matt Bonner. Rasual Butler gets caught up on the screen, so Drew Gooden switches on to Hairston. It’s a mismatch, but things develop slowly enough to where the other Clippers should have time to compensate by jumping into the paint and helping. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen though, as no Clipper comes over as Hairston gets into the paint with dribble penetration. Kaman arrives about three seconds too late and considers challenging the shot, but because he’s tardy he decides instead to let Hairston score on the easy fingeroll at the rim.
The Clippers transition defense is usually decent, but tonight they let the ancient Spurs total up 36 fast break points. The Clippers suffer getting back on defense for a couple of reasons. If Baron drives to the rim, the wings don’t do a good enough job of rotating back up top to cover for him. Of course, Baron isn’t innocent here either. If he penetrates and misses, most times he’ll loaf his way back up court. Drew Gooden and Craig Smith are very serviceable, but they offer a tradeoff. Either you get aggressive offensive rebounding, or you get transition defense. You can’t have both.
Most of the night the Spurs transition opportunities come off turnovers, but during the Spurs important 14-4 run to end the first quarter, they get a transition opportunity off a simple miss.
At the [2:25, 1stQ] mark Craig Smith misses a sweeping shot across the lane against Bonner. DeJuan Blair secures the rebound. For some reason or another, Mardy Collins thinks he can challenge Blair for the board, and sticks around well after Blair gets his giant paws on the ball. Craig Smith is disappointed about not getting a foul call, so he stops and stares at the ref for a bit. DeAndre Jordan does his best pylon impersonation and stares at Blair as if he’ll be the one bringing up the ball and initiating the offense for the Spurs. While the three Clippers hang around in the backcourt, the Spurs’ wings fly up court. Blair delivers an outlet pass to Keith Bogans who takes over the middle of the floor, stops at the free throw line, and dumps off a pass to the streaking Bonner. Two points.
The most frustrating part about this play is that it’s not the SSOL Suns team: It’s Keith Bogans and Matt freaking Bonner.
The Clippers perimeter defenders looked like they were scared to close out on the Spurs shooters. Earlier in the season, you could tell Rasual Butler wasn’t hesitant to really sell out and chase people off the line. Now though, without the faith of knowing the defense behind him is strong? Not so much.
Richard Jefferson and George Hill torch the Clippers in the first half with a bunch off long, relatively uncontested twos. Are you happy with allowing these shots considering it’s the most inefficient place on the court to score from? I suppose, but it’s troubling that the looks aren’t just clean; they’re immaculate. Hill and Jefferson are going to make a lot of shots if you don’t get a hand in their face, and tonight they did just that. Richardson went eight-for-fourteen from the field for 18 points, and Hill went six-for-eight from the field for 14 points.
Painfully slow. The Spurs obviously did a good job swinging the ball and making the defense move, but on most possessions it didn’t take much. One or two passes teamed with a little bit of penetration usually led to a wide open shot. Again, this is all about the personnel selling out and having faith in each other. Right now, it looks like no one wants to be the guy that lets “their man” score. If someone else scores though? So be it.
It’s that selfish attitude that materializes on both ends of the court that really makes the Clippers what they are right now. It’s not just one guy. It never is. If there’s anything we should learn from this season and games like this one, it’s that.