Zach Randolph was great Tuesday night. Some might say too great. DeAndre Jordan’s fourth-quarter defense wasn’t that bad on Randolph, but Z-Bo didn’t care. He beat down on DeAndre in the post every which way. And it wasn’t just Jordan that Randolph attacked throughout the game. Ryan Hollins, Lamar Odom, Blake Griffin, and Ronny Turiaf all had to deal with Z-Bo at some point or another. It was really an amazing and versatile offensive display.
So how do you stop that when Randolph is seemingly scoring at will? Well, there are adjustments to be made; the problem is that those adjustments involve risk and the Clippers are a team that – at least from an adjustment standpoint – diverts its eyes from risk as much as possible. Essentially, the Clips are a metathesiophobic team. They’re afraid of change.
The Clips have a few options: going to a zone, doubling in the post, or fronting Randolph. The zone is something they have gone to sporadically throughout the season. It worked decently in certain stretches in the first two games of the series. And Memphis is a team that doesn’t make a heavy load of outside shots, even when it’s shooting well.
If the Clips stay in a man defense – or decide to switch in and out of it – doubling Randolph is probably a right the All-Star-caliber forward has already earned. Just like with the zone, the Grizzlies’ lack of dominant outside shooters lessens the risk of doubling in the post. At this point, the Clippers have to keep the ball out of Z-Bo’s hands however possible and throwing a second man on him every time he touches it could be an effective way to get him to give up the rock.
Fronting Z-Bo is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward plan. If Blake Griffin is out, the Clips might have to go small more often than they would like. Last year, Miami also had to deal with an injury to its key big when it lost Chris Bosh. The Heat found itself down 2-1 to the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals – mostly because Roy Hibbert was dominating down low night in and night out. So Miami fronted Hibbert and all of a sudden, he turned into a significantly less effective player.
This is the point when you’re allowed to yell at me, “But the Clippers don’t have LeBron James!”
That’s a good point. It’s also true. The Clippers do not, in fact, have the best player in the world. But sometimes, you have to take a risk to reap the benefits of reward. It’s supremely possible that fronting Randolph would be detrimental to the Clippers on the offensive glass (Randolph would have prime position to grab offensive boards in that scenario), but it might be a risk worth taking. If fronting him works, it’s even more effective than doubling. You’re never allowing him to touch the ball and with the way Z-Bo is playing, that’s a major game changer.
I remember watching the Yankees against the Orioles in last year’s ALDS. It was painful to see that Yankee offense. They couldn’t hit a lick. So in the ninth inning of Game 3, manager Joe Girardi made a remarkably gutsy call. He pinch hit for his three-time MVP (and big-ego player) Alex Rodriguez, who hadn’t done anything in the series. It was the ultimate gamble, but he had to do it. That moment led to a Raul Ibanez pinch-hit, game-tying homer, followed by a 12th inning, game-winning Ibanez blast in his next at bat.
The Clippers have to pinch hit for A-Rod. Ibanez doesn’t always hit the home run, but it’s a risk a lesser-manned team – which is what the Clippers are with an injured Blake Griffin – has to take. If a zone doesn’t work, make an adjustment back to a more effective defensive scheme. If fronting Randolph kills you on the offensive boards to the point that you can’t produce anymore, then stop fronting him. Adjustments don’t have to be completely rigid. Coaches can adjust from their adjustments. It happens.
The Clippers haven’t made any impact changes in this series. Seriously, nothing. No rotational adjustments from game-to-game, no changes in style or defensive scheme major enough to be noticed. Heck, Ryan Hollins is still only a first-half big man and Ronny Turiaf is still nonsensically only a second-half player. It’s a team that is deathly afraid of change, no matter the consequence. Sure, it’s risky to change defensive strategy in a series, but sometimes the biggest risk is standing pat and doing nothing at all.