Los Angeles Clippers
MVP: I’m giving this one to Clippers backup forward Wesley Johnson. The two teams struggled mightily shooting the ball for most of the night, and Johnson wasn’t an exception, missing 7-of-8 threes. But he came off the bench and showed some exceptional defensive chops, grabbing a bench-high six rebounds and grabbing a game-high six steals on a night the Clippers were +11 in the turnover margin.
That was … the end of another successful trip: This was the third of the Clippers’ four five-game road trips this season. It was the least successful of the three so far, considering they went 4-1 and 5-0 on the previous two trips. An inactive player broke a bone off the court. They also traded a player. Still, the Clippers finished the trip with a winning record (3-2) and are steadily rolling along with 14 wins in the last 17 games. Focus on the drama if you want to, but there are positive things happening on the court – in tonight’s case, the first win of the season when scoring fewer than 90 points.
X factor: Jamal Crawford is approaching the twilight of what has been a special NBA career, and the eye-popping performances don’t come every week. Tonight, Crawford had a game-high 21 points off the bench, on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. The entire Atlanta bench combined for 12 points on 5-of-22 shooting from the field. This was the rare game where the Clippers thoroughly outplayed the opponent’s bench on the same night the starters seemed overwhelmed.
— Law Murray
Tweet(s) Of The Game
— J.E. Skeets (@jeskeets) January 28, 2016
Clippers held the Hawks scoreless last three minutes of 3rd, then to just three points through nearly eight minutes of the 4th
— Rowan Kavner (@RowanKavner) January 28, 2016
Check Your Messages
It started with Chris Paul guarding Dennis Schroeder at the arc; Tiago Splitter came to set the screen on Paul’s right, and Schroeder made the move to his left. DeAndre Jordan stepped up to fill the gap as Paul fought his way over the Splitter pick, stifling the drive. Schroeder gave up the ball to Paul Millsap above the break with less than three seconds on the clock, and Luc Mbah a Moute scrambling to get a hand in his face, to no avail. Millsap hit the three, extending a 5-point Hawks lead to eight.
In the second quarter, Paul Pierce failed to close out on Kyle Korver, of all people, for another easy three-point possession. So it went on – so many occasions, throughout not just this game, but a bunch of others throughout the season. The Ballmer Boys have gotten spectacularly lucky with some teams including tonight (the Hawks are nowhere near the team they were last year as far as shooting), but this is a problem that needs addressing. There are few; none are team killers taken alone, but when you add them all up, they’ve been making the job of winning basketball games much harder.
The Clippers entered tonight’s game 11th in the league in 3 point percentage allowed, 10th in opponents’ made 3-pointers. Overall, that’s not bad. But when you look at the teams who’ve regularly spanked the Clippers lately, and the ones they will have to beat in the Playoffs, and where they overlap, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture at all. Houston, Dallas, and of course Golden State all attempt more 3-pointers than L.A. Even worse, the Spurs and Warriors all hit their 3-point attempts at a higher clip than the Ship Gang. This means their chances of advancing past their usual 2-round burnouts are largely dependent avoiding these teams ’til the WCF (unlikely) or praying to the basketball gods that proven shooters like Steph Curry, Patty Mills, and James Harden all go ice cold at just the right time (more unlikely still).
Which begs the question: why can’t the Clippers close out on shooters? In some cases, it’s pretty obvious; of course the 40-year old muscles and tendons of a vet like Pierce can’t get to those spots as quickly as they used to. In other cases, it makes little sense; confused rotations, overhelping on penetrating wings, and Crawford dying on every other screen the oppositions throws at him after 16 years in the league. Maybe it’s the scheme; maybe the Clippers, already predisposed to play small, should switch everything. Or maybe the communication is bad. Whatever it is, add it to the list of things the Motley Crew will have to figure out soon, or risk being drowned by a deluge from their hot-shooting competition.
– Aaron Williams
Bench is major key
Depending on which statistic you’re looking at, the Clippers have a top five-to-ten NBA offense. It’s also safe to say they lean on this offense in most of their wins — naturally, you want to leverage your strengths and suppress deficiencies as much as possible. As recently as last season the Clippers bench was often called out as their downfall. Their bench still won’t run other reserves out of the building but they don’t need to. When you can unleash pit bulls like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan in your starting unit, you really just need an adequate bench to hold things together. Tonight in Atlanta, the bench was the reason they stayed in the game long enough to swipe the win in the fourth quarter.
Here are some Clippers stats from tonight that will make you cringe: 39 percent shooting from the field as a team and the starters combined for a +/- of -10.2 points. But hey, this is no time for negativity when you get arguably your best win of the season!
Any way you spin it, here’s the thing: the starters were bailed out by the bench. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as any starting unit can be susceptible to spitting out a sloppy performance. Chris Paul went 0-for-4 from three, the shot selection was question at best, and there were lazy turnovers. Flip side? Jamal Crawford took over the scoring burden with a game-high 21 points on 56 percent shooting! Wes Johnson racked up six steals in his best Prigioni impression. Not a single Clipper reserve had a negative +/- during their time on the floor. In a game where everyone looked clumsy or sleepy, it’s encouraging to know the bench can have your back.
– Kaveh Jam