Professional athletes in any sport have the strength and coordination to routinely make spectacular plays. A three point shot with a hand in the face, a home run, a break away goal, and a long touchdown pass inspire a frenetic awe that can only come with something so astounding. But what is most enthralling is when that amazing play also surprises us. In football it’s the punt returns for touchdowns, the interceptions run back. In baseball it’s the sliding catch in the outfield, the acrobatic double play. In basketball? There’s the alley-oop.
While not at the top of the standings in win and losses, the Clippers are the epitome of alley-oop excitement. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are both in the top four in the league in dunks, often coming on oops. Seemingly every game there is a twinkle in the eye of Baron and Blake or DeAndre catch a impossibly high lob and crush home the dunk, but how does it happen? Let’s check one out.
The play starts off with Baron crossing mid-court slightly on the left side. Blake runs just out in front, with the threat of setting a screen and adding another opportunity to score. Eric Gordon, Ryan Gomes and DeAndre Jordan space out to give Baron and Blake the most room to operate the offenses. Deron recognizes the plan and plays up on Baron, 30 feet from the basket in an attempt to remove the danger of a Baron/Blake pick and roll by forcing him to give up the ball. Deron plays tight D, but Baron has a little hesitation move, and heads to the bucket.
As Baron goes to the basket, notice that EJ runs his man up the sideline, near Baron but out of the paint, giving Baron even more space. This works because EJ’s defender can’t leave him alone, otherwise Eric will have an open three. But the man that can help on Baron is Al Jefferson, DeAndre’s defender. At the moment of help, DeAndre is 20 feet from the basket in a safe zone, DeAndre hasn’t even attempted a shot outside of 10 feet this year. So Jefferson slides over to block Baron’s access to the basket and force him to shoot a short range jumper.
Only DeAndre now has all kinds of space to operate and races over. Baron quickly recognizes DeAndre charging and flicks a pass above Jefferson. Blake’s man, Francisco Elson, can’t close out. Which leaves DeAndre to catch the ball, crank back, hang for long enough that all the Jazz players turn their heads to see DeAndre sledgehammer the ball through the hoop.
Baron’s thought process:
“It was just you know, seeing the defense and seeing when that big guy (Jefferson) commit and knowing that our big guy is going up jump up and go to the rim and gets those dunks. I saw the opportunity to throw it up as soon as the big guy took a step, stood behind him and DJ goes in there for the dunk.”
“Oh, here, they were coming over early (Blake watches and ROARS) with Baron, so once Al (Jefferson) went to do what he did the first time, I knew Baron was coming over and I just looked for it. When he spun his eyes got big and my eyes got big and he just let it go.”
That’s the kind of play that electrifies you no matter if you’re in the stands or sitting on your couch at home. It forces you to make noise that you have never been aware you were capable of making, and even when the play returns to the normal, the energy has the radioactive half life that never quite fades away.