How do you begin to assess a team that’s abdicated any sense of accountability on the defensive end of the floor?
Sacramento is able to conjure up whatever it wants in the first half, putting up 63 points on 47 possessions (134.0 efficiency). Early on, they shred the Clippers in the pick-and-roll. At (1st, 5:55), Udrih dribbles off a Carl Landry screen to a wide open swath of hardwood 13 feet from the basket on the left side. It’s an atrocious display of PNR defense that gives the impression that neither big nor small has any inkling of the other’s intentions. 30 seconds later on the very next possession (1st, 5:26), Landry slips a screen for Tyreke Evans when Kaman steps high to contain the rookie. Drew Gooden, the big man behind the action, is completely unprepared for the rotation. Evans lobs a pass to Landry over the disoriented scrum of Clippers, giving Landry a clear path to an easy slam.
The Kings get good mileage on the Evans-Landry pick-and-roll throughout the night. (1, 3:19) is another good example. The Clippers choose to trap Evans (Baron Davis and Gooden), which means Kaman picks up Landry as the former Rocket forward dashes to the rim. This stretches the Clippers because Rasual Butler is the sole remaining defender on the right side. He’s caught between Andres Nocioni in the corner or Jason Thompson at about 20 feet just beyond the right elbow. The pass goes to Thompson, who drains the 20-foot face-up jumper. Thompson is 39 percent from that distance, just a hair below league average, though that number is probably a bit higher when he gets as much time and space as he does here.
When the Kings aren’t picking the Clippers apart on these sets, they’re sniffing out obvious mismatches. After the Clippers pull within four at 29-25, Sacramento goes immediately to the mismatch – Nocioni on the left block posting up Baron Davis (Mardy Collins has entered the game to pick up the Evans assignment). All it takes is a couple of dribbles by Nocioni, then a spin for a turnaround right-hander over his left shoulder. (1st, 0:58). The Kings go right back to Nocioni against Davis again for the final possession of the period. Same spot, same result.
Nocioni vs. Davis is only one example. In that instance, it’s advantage Sacramento on account of size. But when the Kings post up Landry against Kaman off the left block (2nd, 3:20), it’s to leverage quickness. Kaman is no match for a nimble Landry off the dribble one-on-one.
When the Clippers aren’t failing defensively in the half court, they’re completely lost in transition. These aren’t fast breaks in the classical sense. The Clippers get back, but they lapse entirely when figuring out defensive assignments. Francisco Garcia spots up unattended on the wing for a 3-pointer to give the Kings their first double-digit lead at (2nd, 10:42). He earns another easy bucket in transition at (2nd, 4:46) when he runs hard down the left sideline off another Clipper miss. This time it’s a jumper inside the arc.
86 NBA players have attempted greater than 200 shots from beyond the arc this season. Baron Davis ranks dead last among those 86 in 3-point percentage (27.7 percent), which is why Garcia is more than happy to run underneath the screen and yield Davis the shot at (2nd, 10:27). Davis’ brick rims short, and produces an easy coast-to-coast run-out for Evans, who knives through the Clippers’ skeletal transition defense (2nd, 10:19).
Incapable of defending Sacramento’s rudimentary pick-and-roll game and unable to fend off mismatches that yield substantial advantages to the Kings, the Clippers resort to a zone for stretches of the third quarter. A look at the game log might lead you to believe the strategy worked, but watching Sacramento’s possessions again, it appears the Kings missed some easy opportunities — i.e. Nocioni passing up a wide open corner-3 at (3rd, 8:54), Landry missed 5-footer (3rd, 8:01). If you’re feeling generous, credit the zone for luring Beno Udrih into a couple of ill-advised, long 2s.
After whittling the Kings’ lead down to eight, the Clippers surrender 32 points on 22 possessions in the final frame. After a Landry miss to start the quarter, the Kings score on each of their next nine trips down the floor. The Clippers aren’t getting outwitted. A good number of these buckets occur in one-on-one situations — far less creative stuff than we saw in the first quarter. The Kings are bouncy, while the Clippers are listless, wholly willing to afford Sacramento all the space they need.