Los Angeles Clippers
MVP: With his 17 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 33 minutes played — all highs since his return from injury — Blake Griffin reminded many as to why he so important to the Clippers. The 7-18 shooting stat does validate that his shooting stroke still needs more time, but if today’s performance proves anything, it’s that his passing and ability to run the break remain reliable weapons in his multifaceted skill set.
That was … a louder Sunday: A typically passive matinee crowd at Staples was enabled by a new promotion introduced to Clippers games: if an opposing player misses both of their free throws during one trip to the line, the crowd gets a free chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A. With each first attempt missed, the crowd would get louder and louder with each trip the Mavericks made to the line, culminating with a raucous cheer as Justin Anderson missed both of his free throw attempts with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
X factor: Despite J.J. Barea’s absence, a Mavericks performance that barely reached over 40 percent from the field was kept close early in the game thanks to Raymond Felton, who for stretches of the first quarter looked like Dallas’ best point guard. He would finish the game with 21 points on 7-14 shooting with many aggressive drives to the basket.
— Brandon Tomyoy
Tweet(s) Of The Game
If you think DeAndre Jordan's free throw shooting is bad (4-19), how about the Mavs' 3-point shooting (4-22)?
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 10, 2016
only the clippers would give out free chick fil a sandwiches on a Sunday
— Wells P (@Wells_P) April 10, 2016
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) April 10, 2016
Check Your Messages
By The Numbers
It wasn’t quite 0 to 100, and it certainly wasn’t real quick, but it looked in this game like Blake Griffin started to get his rhythm back over the course of the 33 minutes he played – the most since he returned from his injury shortly after Christmas. “My conditioning’s not there, my strength is not quite there,” he stated candidly after the game, “it didn’t feel great in the first half.” It showed throughout the first quarter, as he went 1-6 and otherwise had little effect on the game, despite his teammates working hard to get him going.
It was when he got out of his head and turned up the intensity of his defense near the end of the game that he started to make his mark. He totaled 6 rebounds in the third quarter, as well as adding 2 steals and forcing his way to the line for a pair of free throws that seemed to finally activate his latent dominance gene. By the final buzzer he had 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists, flexing the all-around game that makes him one of the most valuable Clippers players. When asked to quantify how he felt in the night-and-day switch in his performance, he said, “It’s hard to put a percentage on that, but… 25 to 75.” With 2 games left before the Playoffs, the Clippers will take it as a positive sign of progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Strapped After Halftime
While the internet was doing that lame thing where someone tries to discredit Doc Rivers competency for cheap pops, the Clippers were out making another team playing for something look bad.
Today’s victim was the Dallas Mavericks, winners of six straight coming in, but with today’s loss (and Houston’s win), still without a sure spot in the postseason.
This game was matinee-level sloppy throughout the first half, and then Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle couldn’t resist the urge to put a struggling DeAndre Jordan at the FT line in the 3rd quarter, despite Dallas’ inability to take a lead first. Jordan missed 10 of 13 3rd quarter FTs, an abysmal 23% rate.
However, the Mavericks countered Jordan’s foul shooting from the line with an even worse performance from the field, missing 15 of 18 shots (16.7% FG%) in a 12-point quarter. The Mavericks had been the NBA’s best defense during their six-game win-streak that dated back to March 28, but without J.J. Barea, they’re the ones who were shut down in a critical game for them.
Once again, the Clippers went from a close game at the half to a blowout, making the 4th quarter largely inconsequential. Once again, the Clippers won – that’s 9 of their last 10. Oh, and the team with the NBA’s best defense since March 24, when the Clippers started winning again? Not the Mavericks: the Clippers.
Passive / Aggressive
At the beginning of the game Blake Griffin wasn’t right. It was obvious, whether you were watching from home, from courtside, or from the top deck. He looked tentative with the ball in his hands, playing hot potato around the top of the free throw circle, and his only make of six tries was a totally uncontested dunk. On two different occasions he found himself guarded by Wes Matthews, and instead of backing down and overpowering the Mavs’ 2-guard, he settled for a tricky turnaround and a contested jumper.
In the third quarter, though, something flipped. All of a sudden he was flying around like the jacked-up ball of potential energy he was in his first couple of seasons, diving onto the deck, jumping out of bounds and chucking the ball at opposing kneecaps, and, most importantly, he was taking advantage of his natural talent on the offensive end. He went at, past, and over Zaza for a layup, he sucked an extra defender into the post and then fired a pass out to JJ for an open three, and he rolled hard to the rim, for both an and-1 and an easy lob to DJ.
He said after the game that he came out in the second half trying to be more aggressive on defense, hoping that would get him to be more aggressive on offense. It worked; now to see if he can replicate that recipe going forward.
Even casual observers noticed Blake Griffin’s jumper had fully evolved during the playoffs last spring. Right now that very jumper is completely broken. It is perfectly normal to struggle with timing after a long layoff due to injury. Griffin acknowledged that not only is that timing off but he is likely “overthinking” possessions in his own head.
The Mavericks were completely at ease allowing Griffin to loft away from those elbow spots and Griffin proceeded to go 0-for-5 on them in the first quarter. Today’s game did not exactly reveal much in that extent – starting the day, he was 3-for-14 on shots between 15 and 19 feet per-NBA.com.
All this sheds light on the need to keep J.J. Redick or Jamal Crawford in the lineup as long as Griffin is on the floor. A defense will likely continue to concede that jumper to Blake, which the Clippers can counter when Crawford plays with the starters. That forces the defense to choose who to guard on the switch. Having those perimeter options will be no longer just be a luxury during the playoffs – especially if Griffin’s jumper is not fully restored by then.
The choice to hack a player is known among the league as one of calculation, figuring how free throw shooting percentages factor into points per possession, the number of possessions between a team and their opponent, plus the ability to affect a team’s offensive rhythm. A majority of coaches are aware that the chances of winning a game via hacking when the opposing team has the lead are greatly worse than a coin flip, and yet, coaches relish in the opportunity, much like college boys on a trip to Vegas who are confident they can beat the odds.
With DeAndre Jordan only making 1 of his 10 free throws prior to Rick Carlisle’s choice to play the hacking game, it seemed the odds may have seemed to favor repeatedly sending the Clippers center to the line. But a team’s proficiency in grabbing offensive rebounds adds an additional factor into this game of hacking, and with Blake Griffin back in the fold for the Clippers, there is little doubt that the chances of the Clippers retaining the ball for a new possession after a missed DeAndre Jordan free throw are much greater than with the small ball lineups they have utilized in his absence.
As the ball caromed off the rim for DeAndre’s 13th miss in 14 attempts, Griffin leaped towards the ball, tapping it out of the paint and right into the waiting hands of J.J. Redick, standing mere steps from halfcourt and in perfect position to catch Blake’s tap-back. With Dallas’ five-man unit all bunched below the perimeter, Redick only had to take a couple more steps to jump into a wide open three point shot.
A two possession game becomes a three possession game with one flick of Blake’s wrist backwards and a flick of Redick’s wrist forward, and all in four seconds of game time. The Mavericks would only score 6 more points in the period compared to the Clippers’ 14, and even a 32 point fourth quarter wasn’t enough help Dallas recover after their disastrous third quarter.
There are certainly ways to utilize the hack in order to beat the odds, but the play itself essentially becomes a gamble. With any gamble, one has to know when to step away when the table has gone cold and especially if the table was never favorable to the player to begin with.