Whatever else you can say about the clusterfuck that was last season, the Clippers finished the season as the second best team at defending the three. Perimeter defense and rotations have been a strong suit for this team in recent years. It's how they stayed in and almost won a series with PHX a couple of years back and how they're able to neutralize their lack of superior individual defenders. Even this season, the Clippers are fourth in opponents' 3PM/game.
As a general rule, when a team forfeits one of its most notable strengths, it will lose an NBA basketball game. The Lakers convert 14 of 23 3PAs, 12 of them in the second half. Some were lucky chucks, others were offered up free of charge.
Let's take a look:
- [1st, 11:07] The Lakers are spaced beautifully and the Clippers are sagging. Gasol from the left block feeds the ball into a diving Radmanovic in the paint. The entirety of the Clipper defense collapses on Vlad, including Derek Fisher's man Dan Dickau. Dickau is the fourth to arrive on the scene and offers no discernable help. Vlad fumbles the ball, but eventually kicks it out to Fisher for a wide open 3PM. Easy.
- [2nd, 10:02] This is one of the Clippers' best defensive possessions of the night. The rock initially goes into Pau Gasol on the right block, but Josh Powell won't let the Spaniard into the paint, then Ross comes over to double to prevent an over-the-top jumper. Gasol is forced to kick it back out to Kobe Bryant on the perimeter. Cuttino Mobley rotates over onto Bryant quickly. Take Two. Bryant feeds it into Turiaf at the foul stripe with :07 left on the shot clock. Turiaf looks, holds, then looks again. The only thing he can find is Jordan Farmar way out on the perimeter. Farmer gets the ball with :04 against Brevin Knight. With :02 he takes a right-handed dribble, then steps right for a prayer of a 25-footer and it falls.
- [3rd, 11:02] The wheels come off early in the third period. The Lakers come down quickly and run an immediate high S/R with Fisher-Gasol. Fisher's little J is short, but Radmanovic swoops in for the rebound over Maggette. He dribbles it casually out to the arc while Maggette is complaining. Vlad is shocked that nobody has tailed him to the perimeter, so he just launches the uncontested 3PA.
Well, at least he gets his number on the other end.
- [3rd, 9:16] The Lakers are in transition. Powell has his guy – Odom. Ross is on Bryant, and Dickau is doing his best on Fisher. Kaman and Maggette are completely lost. Bryant recognizes this and feeds it to Radmanovic. Kaman tries to close and Maggette – who's responsible for Vlad – doesn't see the play until it's already over the shot has fallen.
- [3rd, 8:45] Picture perfect. The Lakers inbound the ball under their own basket. It goes into Bryant in the mid-post. Ross works him. Bryant tries to wiggle toward the paint. Just as he sees Dickau drop from the arc to double, Bryant kicks it out to Fisher. The Lakers have overloaded the weak side, so there's nobody to come over and rotate. Fisher sinks the 3PM.
I think the best way to double Bryant here is from the weak side instead of the perimeter, but who's counting?
- [3rd, 3:11] This is sort of a broken play. Bryant breezes down the court in transition. As he penetrates the lane, he fumbles it. There's a scrum for the ball, but Bryant recovers it and his momentum carries him to the arc. Mobley recovers, but Bryant steps back for a 3PA that goes through.
- [3rd, 2:41] A perfect offensive set. Bryant brings the ball up left side. He quickly feeds it into Gasol on the left low block. Powell has him covered, so Gasol quickly kicks it out to Odom on the arc. Luke Walton is literally being triple-teamed off the ball by Knight, Thomas, and Thornton. Anyway, Odom has the shot if he wants it, but instead he feeds it to an open Derek Fisher in the corner.
I've said it before – Brevin Knight is an awful team defender. There's this tendency to believe that, if a guy racks up a lot of steals, he must be a good defender – much the same way that if a guy puts up a lot of stolen bases, he must be a good baserunner, right? Let's call it the Juan Pierre Effect. Admittedly, Knight is a pretty solid on-ball defender against smaller point guards. But the minute the floor is spread and he's asked to make off-ball defensive decisions, he's horrendous. What he was doing in the paint on Walton I have no earthly idea.
- [3rd, 1:42] In transition off a Thornton miss. Bryant brings it up right side against a backpedaling Mobley. He pulls up at 26 feet and hits. No faulting Mobley here. It's one of those transcendent Bryant moments.
- [4th, 10:38] Off another offensive rebound, Walton grabs the ball. He's straddling the baseline, but managed to find Turiaf in the paint just below the foul line. Powell swiftly gets in his face, but Turiaf finds Vujacic alone in the left corner. Big surprise because Vujacic is never hanging out along the arc or anything. Maggette futilely tries to close.
At this point, it's a 32 point game and, if you're like me, you switched over to the Denver-San Antonio game.
I'd like to offer another endorsement of Josh Powell as a bona fide useful NBA piece. Back at NC State, he was an extremely active frontcourt player on both ends with more quickness than your average power forward. "Energy player" is a often a euphemism for a guy who is neither a small nor a power forward and I was initially skeptical that Powell could find a place on the floor except in those rare instances when a Boris Diaw-type is playing the 4, but his post defense has been solid. In addition, he's improving in help situations with each passing week. Offensively, his mid-range game is what I remember from his ACC days – instinctive and with a better touch than you'd think. Locking him up for 3 years for nothing looks better and better.