Don’t look now, but the Clippers have beaten two streaking Western Conference teams in a row, both by double digits. For the second consecutive game, they showed a consistent level of play that comes at the right time, because their next game is against the Heat. After dismantling a full-strength Denver team that had won four in a row, the Clips jumped on the Warriors early and never let up, en route to a 105-91 victory in Sunday’s matinee game. It was probably their most balanced performance of the year and a clear indication of the way Neil Olshey imagined things would look like when he put this team together. Blake Griffin, has allowed everyone to settle into their roles, and today we saw how difficult they can make things for their opponent when they execute their responsibilities.
The final line for Griffin (23 points, 12 boards) is consistent with his season averages, but really doesn’t do justice to his impact on the floor. As usual, the Clippers came out looking to run their offense through him, but what was most impressive was their response to Golden State’s obvious intention of stopping him at all costs. On many occasions, he simply scored through or over double- and even occasional triple-teams. But when he elected to pass out of the pressure, he did so with patience and precision, and his teammates made the Warriors pay. Ball movement was extremely crisp, and many of his teammates benefitted from the open looks and driving lanes. The Clips put pressure on the Warriors on both ends of the floor, the result was foul trouble for key players like Steph Curry (two fouls in the first three minutes), David Lee (fouled out) and Andris Biedrins (fouled out) and an uphill battle for most of the game. With Golden State unsuccessfully devoting it’s defensive resources to stopping Blake, the Clippers unleashed a sort of controlled chaos that allowed them to exploit their talent advantages at nearly every position. If it weren’t for Dorell Wright and his 27 points, things could have been much worse for the visitors. With a consistent rotation and things beginning to fall into place, let’s take a look at some of the key pieces of The Formula and how today’s games shows how they fit.
Blake Griffin: In achieving his 12th consecutive 20-10 game, we saw again just how overpowering Grffin can be on a basketball court. It’s not simply that he produced another nice scoring and rebounding total, because, let’s be honest, he is a terrible mismatch for David Lee and the Warriors and we would expect him to dominate. But the way he makes the game so much easier for his teammates is what should truly inspire hope for sustained team success. His presence allows shooters to have space along the perimeter and opens up lanes to penetrate because defenders can’t afford to help off of him. At [9:35 Q3], he gets ball at the short corner and gets doubled by Dorrell Wright and David lee. With Curry denying Gordon on the near wing, Blake swings the ball to Gomes over the defense on the opposite side elbow. Gomes makes a quick pass to Baron at the top of the key and Baron drives down the lane. With two defenders in position on the blocks, you would assume one would step up to make him give up the ball, but instead, he basically walks all the way to the rim for an easy layup. The play started with Griffin’s patience and passing ability to find the right guy out of the double-team and ended with a teammates’ uncontested drive to the hole, despite the proper play being to help and rotate.
One more moment worth remembering, even he does this kind of stuff all the time: [:38, Q3] Randy Foye tips the ball away and has a run out. He looks like he has enough room to finish the play himself, but he misses an awkward dunk/layup attempt. Out of nowhere, Blake appears for the put-back dunk. A put-back dunk is always good, but what makes the play so special is his relentless drive to be there, in that spot, on a play where he started out way behind the action. Mike Smith described it perfectly: “He had no reason to expend that effort and get down there and run full speed, but he did, because he does.” Indeed, he sets a tone for his teammates that gives them no choice but to follow suit. The man entered the league with shooting as a weakness, and has already shown significant improvement in that area. Today, he went 9-11 from the free throw line. How can his teammates not be motivated to be the best they can be?
Eric Gordon: The ideal second option for the Clippers as they move forward, Gordon was phenomenal, especially in the first half. He was the primary beneficiary of the Warriors emphasis on Griffin, and he made them pay dearly, to the tune of 25 points, 21 of which came before halftime. His struggles from the three-point line are behind him, and he’s showing how dangerous he can be working off of Blake armed with his full offensive repertoire. Today, he goes 3-8 from three in addition to getting to the line six times without missing. Against the Warriors backcourt of Curry and Monta Ellis, his size isn’t an issue, and he is actually much stronger than either, so he is able to punish them on both ends. At halftime talking to Dain Blanton, Gordon spoke about the Clippers’ desire to push the tempo, while limiting mistakes. They had their turnovers, but many came at the cost of playing an uptempo pace, which generally worked to their advantage today. What he also mentioned, and what separates teams like the Clippers from the Warriors, is that they desire to play with a tempo that is fast, but starts with defense. Gordon, who had three steals and contributed to slowing Curry and Ellis, is a key to this plan because of his ability to play the passing lanes and get out and run.
DeAndre Jordan: Quite possibly the most pleasant individual surprise in a season full of them for the Clippers has been the emergence of DeAndre as a true NBA big man. What he’s done recently has been eye-opening as it relates to his ability to change the game, particularly on the defensive end. Coming off of three consecutive games with six or more blocks, he had another impressive showing against the Warriors. He finished with nine points, 13 boards and three more blocks, continuing to provide a legitimate post partner to Blake. On the play where Baron waltzed down the lane for a layup, you can be sure that DeAndre’s presence near the block gave his defender incentive to stay put and not help. Look forward to a post taking a closer look at his emergence soon, but suffice it to say, he has firmly cemented himself in the Clippers’ plans. He has developed wonderful chemistry in this offense as an invaluable resource to finish everything near the rim, but he’s also shown the ability to anchor the team’s defense in the paint. Over the past five games, DeAndre is averaging 10.2 points on 77% shooting, 11.2 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks in 37 minutes a game. With his athleticism and the athletes around him, the thought of a strong defense leading to offensive opportunities can be pretty exciting for Clipper fans.
Baron Davis: When healthy and motivated, as he appears to be now, Baron appears to be a great fit for this team. He continues to make use of his two phenomenal big men finishers with his deft passing touch. In this game he dishes out 11 assists and looks in great controlling the offense. When he limits his long jumpers off the dribble and makes use of the space that Griffin creates by getting into the lane, he can still be a key scoring option for the Clippers, as he showed today. 17 points in the flow of the offense combined with Gordon’s big day to completely overpower the Warriors’ backcourt on both ends of the floor. The duo of Curry and Ellis came in leading the league in guard scoring with 44.2 points per game, but shot 6-32 and 0-11 from three against the Clippers.
Al-Farouq Aminu: For the past 12 games – a period during which the Clippers have gone 7-5 – Vinny Del Negro has had the same starting each game, one that featured Ryan Gomes at small forward. Consequently, Aminu has lost minutes of late, and with the team playing well he has been asked to make the most of his time playing both forward positions off the bench, which he did with great success. Against the Warriors’ small lineup, the Clips were able to bring in at the 4 when DeAndre picked up his fourth foul midway through the third, and the defense didn’t miss a beat. AFA makes an impact with his activity all over the floor, finishing with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block in 21 minutes of play.
His versatility off the bench has solidified a unit that now becomes a real strength with Bledsoe and Foye in the backcourt and Ike Diagu, who had eight rebounds in 14 minutes against the team that drafted him. On the night, the Clippers had nine guys log double digits in minutes, and were able to say the standard didn’t change from one to the next. Over the past two games, they have outscored the Nuggets and Warriors in seven of eight quarters, only losing the fourth quarter of today’s win, 18-14.
Next up, LeBron.