In late February, I had this to say about the Clippers’ apparent Achilles heel on the perimeter:
Without J.J. Redick–and now perhaps Jamal Crawford–for an undetermined length of time, the Clippers are a performance car with a flat tire. All the power of Griffin[,] precision of CP3 and passion of DJ can only go as fast as the spare can handle.
Too often the ball finds a less potent threat, whether Barnes, Dudley, Collison or even Willie Green for an open shot in a big spot. On nights where one or more make just enough plays, the trip arrives safely at its destination. But it took longer than it should tonight. And who knows how well the spare will hold up when the road gets bumpy.
To extend the metaphor to its breaking point, who can blame Doc and company for wanting to check if Danny Granger has any tread left? Of course, the issue is moot if Crawford is out for a minimal span, if Redick can return with enough time to re-acclimate before the playoffs and if Dudley finally locates his Phoenix shooting touch. But until those happy occurrences, the Clippers are limited to surface roads with a machine designed for the speedway.
Somewhat embarrassingly for me, the player I did not mention among the possible solutions, Matt Barnes, did the most over the second half of the season to plug this gap. Once he was inserted into the starting lineup, and before slumping slightly over the final two weeks of the season, Barnes’ accuracy from three-point range improved greatly while his rediscovered defense gave the Clippers a potent two-way lineup.
Unfortunately, Barnes’ shooting touch has left him for much of this first round match-up with the Golden State Warriors. Before his breakout double-double in Game 6, Barnes was averaging a paltry 6.2 points on 35.7 percent shooting, including 4-for-14 (28.7 percent) on three pointers. More worrisome is the dropoff in his rebounding: in Games 1 through 5, he was only grabbing 3.4 rebounds per game, down from 4.8 as a starter during the season. This is especially concerning because, despite being undersized with Andrew Bogut injured, the Warriors have outrebounded the Clippers for the series, and have been especially punishing on the offensive glass, where Golden State is rebounding almost one in every three shots it misses.
With Barnes’ ineffectiveness from the perimeter, Doc Rivers has gone long stretches with small lineups featuring either Jamal Crawford or J.J. Redick at the 3 this series. Not only has this played into Golden State’s preferred style of play with its current available roster, it has also ensured that at least two of Golden State’s wing players have a significant size advantage offensively. While we may make jokes about Mark Jackson’s cro-magnon offensive scheme with extensive reliance on isolation post ups for Klay Thompson or even Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, when these players have Redick, Crawford or Darren Collison on them, the Clippers are still forced to help and rotate. The ensuing chaos has been one of the Warriors’ best offensive looks during this series, with the Clippers conceding almost five points per 100 possessions more with either Redick or Crawford at small forward than with Barnes in the game, per NBAWOWY.com
That said, Rivers’ decision is understandable, because with Chris Paul ailing and Blake Griffin receiving attention from two and, at times three defenders, the Clippers offense can’t survive without scoring threats spacing the floor.
So, while the rest of the Game 6 performance was underwhelming and disappointing, at least Matt Barnes appears to have fully joined the proceedings with his 18 points (including 3-for-7 from deep) and 11 rebounds. Another effort along those lines tonight will be an enormous boost in the Clippers’ chances to advance.