Every few games throughout the playoffs, ClipperBlog will be checking in with their senior staff for some of the larger themes and trends of the series. Think of it as a Last Call that’s been decanted. It’s the Layover.
Let’s Not React
by Fred Katz
I’m done giving immediate reactions from now on. I’m retiring from that.
Now, here’s my reaction to Games 1 and 2:
Maybe we were too quick to jump on the Clippers after that Game 1, 109-105 loss to the Warriors, when Blake Griffin played just 19 minutes. After all, the Clips have made a habit of bouncing back after losses this season. We’re talking about a team that followed up a defeat with another one only five times in the regular season. It’s a squad that didn’t accumulate a three-game losing streak all year.
The Clippers’ point differential in games following a loss this year? +9.0. And that stat after the New Year is even better: +11.8. Sure, these are all super small sample sizes, but the numbers back up the truth here: Teams that are this talented with this kind of leadership don’t struggle for prolonged periods. And that’s a nice trait to possess when you’re trying to win four straight best-of-seven series.
by Patrick James
On Tuesday, Andrew Sharp published a piece for Grantland called “The Chris Paul Paradox,” which tackles the cognitive dissonance surrounding the Clippers’ diminutive leader: although he’s the best point guard of his generation — capable of taking his game to incomparable levels in the playoffs — he’s never achieved the things we typically associate with “best in the game” status: championships… or at the very least conference finals appearances. Sharp is interested in simultaneously unpacking this dichotomy and challenging its premise. And he arrives at an encouraging conclusion: “When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter how unbelievable CP3 can be in the playoffs. The person who defines how we remember Chris Paul is probably Blake Griffin.”
Think back to Saturday, when Griffin dropped 16 points in 19 minutes, and the Clippers were a +9 (in terms of raw numbers) while he was on the floor. (They lost, you’ll remember, by only 4). More tellingly, as Matt Moore of CBS Sports pointed out, “[t]he Clippers were minus-21.7 (minus-14 points per 100 possessions) in the 29 minutes Blake Griffin sat with foul trouble. They were plus-22.5 (plus-34.6 per 100 possessions) in the 19 minutes he played. L.A. had a 44.2 swing from when Griffin was on the bench to when he was on the floor.” And what did the team win by in Game 2, when he wasn’t in foul trouble? 40.
The point isn’t to guarantee another blowout or to ask whether the Clippers can win with Chris Paul as their best player. Nor, for that matter, is it to ask whether any team can win with a point guard as their best player (though no one but the Pistons have done so for about 25 years). The point is that the Clippers don’t need to ask these questions. In this series, and for the foreseeable future, Griffin holds the key to their success.
Just What The Doctor Ordered
by Jovan Buha
Last postseason, the Grizzlies’ trio of Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter routinely burned the Clippers’ wings with a slew of backdoor cuts and offensive rebounds. The problem, in large part, stemmed from Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler’s lack of athleticism and general defensive effort. Their net ratings (-12.7 for Billups, -19.3 for Butler) were the two worst on the team, and it was objectively clear to most observers that Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe should’ve soaked up their minutes. Instead, former coach Vinny Del Negro trudged on with the ineffective duo, and the Clippers perished much earlier than expected.
After dropping Game 1 to the Warriors — another team with massive wings — similar concerns emerged about the defense of Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison. When they flanked Chris Paul in an ultra-small backcourt, the Warriors took advantage by posting up, crashing the offensive glass and making smart cuts. With the two on the floor, the Clippers were outscored by 21.6 points per 100 possessions. Extremely small sample size, sure, but it was obvious there needed to be some type of adjustment.
So naturally, Doc Rivers adjusted. In Game 2, he played Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick and Danny Granger heavier minutes, which added more size and defensive acumen to the perimeter. Crawford and Collison only combined for 21 minutes through three quarters (disregarding a meaningless fourth quarter), which was eight less than through the same time frame in Game 1. While a 10-minute shift in the rotation might not sound like much, it can have a considerable impact when every possession is magnified in the playoffs.
Crawford and Collison will still play important roles in this series, especially on the offensive end. It’s just difficult to play them together without another wing stopper, and they shouldn’t log many minutes out of their respective positions. What’s refreshing, though, is to see a coach who not only recognizes a problem with his rotation, but corrects it before it’s too late.
Herb-roasted Cavendish Crow
by Andrew Han
So, I guess Clippers in four isn’t happening.
Undoubtedly my cohorts are all extolling the virtues of Blake Griffin; how the minutes disparity from games 1 and 2 made all the difference. And they’re right.
But also it’s time for Doc Rivers to stop messing around and give the designated starting lineup massive minutes. Who were the two best wings through the first two games? Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick with net ratings of 24.9 and 22.4, respectively. Danny Granger is next at 17.7.
Yes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul make a huge difference. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the starters — who boasted a healthy 9.6 net points per 100 possessions in limited, injury-riddled regular season minutes — is blowing the doors off the early playoffs at a differential of 42.6.
The Clippers are good. And while the heart of their eye-popping stats was the bench unit last season, the core has been shifted dramatically to the starters. Play them more. Together. Have my next entrée of crow sous-vide.
Clippers in five.
Past the prologue
by Seerat Sohi
The regular season is an unfolding story of sorts. Its successes, failures and stretches of mediocrity are the epitome of process. The plot lines can be mundane at times, heady at others but regardless of their viewing quality, they are just a loose foundation of what comes next.
Attached to every playoff possession is a sense of consequence. There is meager time for a team to correct its mistakes, to get variance back on their side, to balance out the oddities of a basketball game. The thing with 82 games is you get 81 chances for a do-over. Imagine living 82 lives. Your luck would balance out, for the most part.
Now, it’s this: Lose Game 1 and you’re looking at an impossible chess match if you lose Game 2. And it’s never, never going to be a fair fight.
This is why we attach so much importance to coaches. We want the guy who plays chess while the rest of the league plays checkers, the one who can walk into his locker room and flip the script on what’s been a winning strategy for six months; the one who understood this six months ago so he crafted a team that’s prepared to be versatile at the push of a button. That’s really all you can do to prepare. We can wax on Timmy all we want but Pop is a prime reason the Spurs have been so undeniable, ascetic and, without pause, better than you.
That line of reasoning begets an internal struggle in an analytically inclined age. The problem with appreciating the process, knowing it’s the reason this team is where it is today, is simultaneously understanding how futile it is against the flick of a wrist that can burn hotter for six games than it would for 82.