“I thought yesterday we had a great defensive practice and covered all the things we messed up on tonight. We slipped but hopefully we’re not slipping.”
“We know what to do. That’s the tough part about it. It’s not on the coaches. It’s on us in this locker room. Part of it is effort and part of it is pride. We’ve got to step it up.”
Those are the words of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as they speak on the defensive struggles the Los Angeles Clippers have dealt with and are currently dealing with. In a piece by Arash Markazi following the Atlanta Hawks loss, the two Clippers leaders came off a bit confused at how, defensively, they just can’t get it together, even with all the work done off the court to prepare for games.
But the problem, as mentioned above, has more to do with scheme than effort. There’s no doubting the strategy that Doc Rivers is putting together for Los Angeles; he has a proven track record of constructing good defensive teams. The problem as it has always been is the lack of defensive intuition and talent on the floor.
It’s why having a player like Kevin Garnett or Tyson Chandler happens. Being physically capable is only half the equation when becoming an “elite” defender. Knowing what to do, when to do, where to work, how to work and leading your teammates in the right direction is the are the Clippers can’t fulfill.
Take this play for instance:
On a pass to Paul Millsap in the post, Demarre Carroll performs a routine cut to the basket to provide spacing Millsap to work on the block. And somehow this happens:
As common a cut Demarre made, the technique to defend it is just as common. Blake steps to the side to either cut off Carroll on his path or bump him on his way through the paint then immediately retreat back to Millsap. Or if the team feels Millsap is too big a threat to leave that close to the basket, DeAndre Jordan shades down while Paul covers his tracks.
Simple defense and yet mistakes such as these, or worse, are ordinary against the Clippers defense.
Look at Jamal Crawford‘s defensive positioning on this dribble-drive by Jeff Teague:
During my basketball playing days in high school I was always taught to contort my body to make sure that I can perfectly see the ball and the man. That’s the key. See: man. See: ball. Crawford broke the rule allowing Cartier Martin an easy three-pointer. No defensive discipline.
Jamal Crawford, again, (along with DeAndre Jordan) was at fault here:
A hand-off/pick-and-roll allows Kyle Korver to get in this position. For a defense, this is what you want. These are the shots the Indiana Pacers force teams to make. Admittedly, KK is a solid mid-range shooter (47.6% via NBA Stats), but the numbers show that’s the least efficient shot to take on the court. Now instead of DAJ dropping to cover for Mike Scott, Griffin’s man, until Griffin can immediately recover, Jamal Crawford takes the initiative, breaking the “don’t help one pass away” rule.
Easy 3. Injuries to J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes has killed the flow of the defense, and with Doc giving limited minutes to Reggie Bullock, this area of the game will continue to struggle until Barnes’ can return.
Here are a few more pics of defensive breakdowns and lapses suffered by the Clippers:
Watching this team play makes me realize why Doc wanted to be acquired alongside Kevin Garnett. Not only to bring the continuity the duo had in Boston to Los Angeles, but because he’s defensive knowledge allows him to cover mistakes and playing next to a player like that forces players to up their ante on that end. Obviously the Clippers made out like bandits not being able to acquire KG, but the thought of it is reasonable.
Going forward? You can only hope the problem stems from the lack of chemistry due to injuries. Having a Matt Barnes helps. Having J.J. Redick helps. But a lot of the issues not stemming from personnel more than it does just knowing how to defend is bothersome.
This road trip will be the perfect time to come together as they face inferior teams such as Cleveland, Washington and Brooklyn. If they can’t pull off an impressive string of defensive showings against these teams, then all hope may be lost unless a move, trade or free agency, is made.