“It’s more fun when you get a running start.”
That’s what Blake Griffin posted on his Facebook fanpage this morning, right above where he pasted the Youtube link to one of his many lob finishes – this obscene, one-handed finish on the break in Sunday’s win over the Knicks. Chris Paul tosses the ball up, Griffin snags it, and it’s all fireworks from there.
There is an odd dichotomy between the Clippers’ reputation and their actual style. Conventional wisdom says the Clips run and that’s all they do. They struggle running a half-court offense. They’re at their worst running set plays and that’s why they don’t try to do it often. But while it’s perfectly reasonable – and probably correct – to say the Clippers have their best individual moments when they’re breaking, playing up tempo is far from all they do. In fact, it’s not even something they do often.
Early in the season – we’re talking many moons ago back in November – the Clips were getting out in transition far more frequently than they are now. Los Angeles found itself in the top 10 in the league in pace, a massive change in style from last season (when the Clippers finished 27th in the NBA in that category). But now, that pace has fallen off.
It makes sense historically. Chris Paul has never been the type of point guard that likes to control a high-possession game. He’s about being meticulous and scheming a defense. Those traits work so much more effectively for him in half-court sets than out on the break where athleticism, speed, and leaping can rule over all.
If you go to check what type of team game the Clips play now, you wouldn’t guess they were a team that sparkled in transition. That’s because they rank right in the middle of the pack in pace, sitting at 15th in the league. But does the Clippers’ game speed have a major effect on their wins and losses? The numbers say no.
In wins this season, the Clips average playing only 0.27 more possessions per game than they do in their losses. In games against teams that slow the ball down and move at a more glacial rate (say, Memphis), the Clippers haven’t seemed to be that negatively affected, either. L.A. is 8-4 this season in games that are fewer than 90 possessions, a winning percentage perfectly consistent with their 46-21 regular season record.
In fact, it’s the faster-paced games in which the Clippers struggle. That’s right, Lob City isn’t as good when it plays the type of game that’s conducive to its moniker. Proof of that? L.A. is only 14-10 in games of 95 possessions or more.
But those huge, fast-break plays are major momentum swings, aren’t they? Maybe when the Clippers are running like crazy, that energy can carry over from game to game. Let’s look at the time the Clippers played best this season, during their 17-game winning streak, and see if the numbers agree.
Over that streak, the Clippers averaged 93.6 possessions a game. To put that in perspective, Los Angeles averages 94.3 possessions per game on the season. A 93.6 pace for the year would currently place a team 20th in the NBA. The Clips actually slowed it down during that streak.
Yes, the Clippers look pretty when they get out in front of teams. That’s part of the joy in watching them play. Seeing DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin be the oop to Chris Paul’s alley has become one of the most exciting moments in basketball.
The Clippers run well so they run all the time.
In actuality, the Clippers have very short possessions (their fast breaks) and very long ones (a luxury they are afforded with players Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford, who can get shots late in the shot clock on command). But even though it’s more fun when you get a running start, don’t think that’s how the Clippers win. Their fast breaking is about quality, not quantity. Perception is not always consistent with reality and because of that, the Clips may actually have an advantage working in the half court come playoff time.