CLIPPERS THRIVE ON 3-POINT BINGES

Jamal Crawford puts up a three over Jimmy Butler
Jamal Crawford (3-5 from three-point range) puts up a three over Jimmy Butler.

CHICAGO – There are plenty of teams that live and die by the 3-pointer.

The Clippers do not, but when they are making them, especially early in games, it changes their offense dramatically.              

“It stretches the defense,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “For us, it opens the floor up more for Blake [Griffin]. The 3-point shot for us is valuable. Obviously, you get three, but the affect it has is now the floor is spaced. And Blake in space is very dangerous.”

Friday’s 112-95 win in Chicago was perhaps as good of an example as any of how dangerous Griffin can be in the 3-point game and otherwise. He scored 26 points and had seven assists. Five of those came in the first quarter, all on 3-pointers. The Clippers made seven in the period, setting a franchise record for the most in a single quarter.

They came in semi-transition with Griffin collapsing the Bulls’ defense on the break and kicking out. They came on skip passes in the half court off pick-and-roll plays and later in the game with Griffin drawing attention in the post.

“You want to play inside-out,” J.J. Redick said, “so a lot of those threes were coming off either dribble penetration or little pocket passes to Blake where then he swung it to the corner to guys like D.C. (Darren Collison), Matt [Barnes] or myself. So, it was good inside-out action.”

Barnes, who combined with Redick and Jamal Crawford made 10 of the Clippers’ 13 3-point shots Friday, said it all came off of ball movement. 

“We’re a tough team when we move the ball. We’ve got a tremendous post option. We’ve got space with shooters and then DeAndre [Jordan] to catch everything and block everything and rebound everything. So, when we move the ball it’s tough for them to key on one player.”

That could be said about most teams, though, and Rivers candidly admitted that the bottom line about 3-point shooting is that the league is essentially about “make or miss.” Two nights earlier in Charlotte, a number of the same shots weren’t falling and the Clippers lost by four.

On Friday the threes were as demoralizing as any dunk. The United Center crowd groaned every time a Clipper rose up for shot behind the arc and for good reason. They made 10 of their first 11 3-pointers.

“We had some good shooting games in Orlando,” Redick said, recalling his days with the Magic when the team thrived on feeding Dwight Howard in the post and chucking a high volume of long balls. “We would get off to a roll like that and make 12 or so in the first half. It just seemed like we couldn’t miss there for a while [tonight].”

Still, they are not Redick’s Orlando teams or the Golden States, Portlands and Houstons of the world, outfits that essentially go hungry if they don’t take and make a high volume of 3-pointers. The Clippers are slightly more balanced. For example: Portland scores 25 percent of its points from 3-point range, while the Clippers earn 21 percent. The gap between the supposed haves and have nots of 3-point shooting in the Western Conference is more like a tiny crevice. It has simply become too big of a factor for good teams not to thrive from distance.

Out of the top eight teams in the West, only the Oklahoma City Thunder are outside of the top 10 in the league in 3-point makes. The Clippers, at 368, are ninth. Still, they are arguably one of the streakiest teams from distance in the NBA. They are 26th in 3-point percentage, but own a record of 19-0 when they make at least nine this season.

When asked about it, Griffin reiterated what Barnes said earlier: unselfishness is when they are at their best.

“When guys hit shots like that and then you have guys like DeAndre finishing down low, it makes it tough for teams,” Griffin said. “It’s really about our ball movement offensively that gets us those shots.”