Can we kindly suspend the term trap game with regard to any team not vying for a playoff spot and certainly one that’s lost 10 of its last 12 games? The Clippers don’t have trap games any more than anarchists have agenda items.
Why have the Clippers descended to such an abject state? It’s because they’ve become a rudderless, lazy defensive team, especially in transition — something that wasn’t the case earlier in the season. We see Beno Udrih Version 2.0 slice through the defense after Clippers made baskets twice in the first quarter (1st, 9:36; 1st, 7:34), then nobody picks up Donte Greene at the 3-point line in transition (1st, 0:30), a breakdown that gives the Kings a 13-point lead at the end of one quarter. All afternoon, the Clippers are behind Sacramento on every run-out, as the Kings fill every lane on the break and don’t stop until they reach the rim (i.e. 3rd, 10:49).
In the half court, Carl Landry pummels the Clippers. Landry is a handful to defend one-on-one in the half court, but you know what’s really difficult?
Defending him zero-on-one.
That’s the strategy when Drew Gooden inexplicably drops off Landry to trap Francisco Garcia, a double-team so effective that Garcia easily shuttles the ball back to a wide-open Landry for an uncontested 20-foot jumper to extend the Kings’ lead to 13 points. (3rd, 9:15). The next trip down, Sacramento goes to an Udrih-Landry ball screen. The Clippers elect to trap Urdih, giving Landry a free roll. Even against the trap, Udrih is able to hit Landry in motion. You can’t really fault Chris Kaman for a late rotation because he’s guarding Hawes up top (Sacramento wisely clears the lane) and Landry is so agile moving toward the basket. The better question: Why trap Udrih in that scheme?
Following that possession, the Clippers regroup defensively in a zone, but it’s largely ineffective. Take the possession at (3rd, 7:04). The Kings bust the zone the way good teams do — by moving the ball side-to-side. Greene fires a skip pass from the right side perimeter to Udrih on the left wing. Udrih takes one dribble to his right, where he finds a big patch of open floor and launches an open 16-footer. Sacramento by 14.
The Clippers stage a little comeback in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter when the Kings try to make a go of it without a point guard on the floor (Udoka-Garcia-Nocioni-Landry-Thompson). On those five possessions, the Kings turn the ball over four times. Their only shot attempt is a 27-foot jumper from Nocioni. The Clippers string together a run, paced by a Steve Blake-Craig Smith pick-and-roll (4th, 11:16) and a Blake 3-pointer in transition (4th, 9:15). Sacramento blunts the Clippers’ rally once Paul Westphal inserts Udrih back into the lineup.
The game isn’t without positive developments for the Clippers. Eric Gordon has his first efficient effort in 18 days — 23 points on 17 true shots, with four turnovers, four assists, four rebounds and a couple of steals.
Gordon does a solid job attacking in early situations before the Kings’ defense gets set (i.e. 1st, 10:36). When you ask Gordon how he copes when he’s struggling with his shot, he’ll generally give you a uniform response: I need to attack. That’s clearly his m.o. on Sunday afternoon, particularly in transition (1st, 8:02; 1st, 2:41; 3rd, 3:11).
Gordon also forgoes the PUJITs. At (2nd, 5:30), he uses a flare screen along the arc by Kaman not for a catch-and-shoot opportunity, but to catch-and-drive once it’s apparent he’s got an open seam to his left all the way to the basket. There’s a fascinating little possession at (2nd, 3:48). Nocioni defends Gordon as Eric dribbles inside the arc. Eric has been in attack mode for most of the half, so Nocioni plays off him a bit. With a slight hesitation move, Eric gets Nocioni even further back on his heels, giving Eric even more room to launch what’s essentially an uncontested 19-footer that’s true.
Eric has struggled to leverage his dribble game into playmaking opportunities, but on his aggressive drive at (3rd, 6:41), he threads the needle beautifully when the defense collapses on him, dropping a pinpoint interior pass to Kaman underneath the basket for an easy slam.
Remember that hellacious stretch last season when Baron Davis couldn’t break the 50 percent mark from the field for an eternity? Sunday afternoon, Baron records his fifth consecutive game of better than 52 percent shooting from the field. It’s not hard to explain: Only three of Baron’s 12 true shot attempts from the field came from beyond 15 feet (he’s 1-for-3 from that distance; 5-for-8 from 15 feet and closer, with a trip to the line).
Davis, a 37.0 percent shooter on long-2s and a 28.2 percent shooter from beyond the arc, will have to refashion his game to successfully lead the Clippers to a better future. With respect to shot distribution, Sunday’s games provides a helpful blueprint.