CLIPPERS WILL BE PATIENT WITH DEFENSE
LOS ANGELES – Defense takes time.
It was evident Tuesday night when the Clippers allowed 116 points, 41 in the final quarter, to the Lakers. It is not that the Clippers are missing ingredients to be a top-flight defensive team. It is not as though they’re unaware of what needs to be corrected.
Doc Rivers said prior his team’s opener that establishing a defensive identity happens “piece by piece.” Rivers cited 3-point defense as a problem. The Lakers made 14 shots from distance. Rivers bemoaned his team giving up second-shot opportunities. The Clippers allowed 30 second-chance points.
“I did a poor job of boxing out and going to get rebounds and even pursuing offensive rebounds, not just defensively,” Blake Griffin said when asked what went wrong on the boards for the Clippers Tuesday. “We’ve got to want it more than them. That’s half of the battle in rebounding.”
Ryan Hollins, who is the only member of the roster to play for a Rivers coached team before this season, says there is a monotony to learning the scheme and learning how best to execute it.
“That’s something that Doc’s preaching every day, you have to do the small things every day,” Hollins said. “Even though you get tired of them and it’s repetitive, you have to continue to stay with the process. I think that’s what he’s beating into our heads and it’s starting to show.”
But after a relatively successful early portion of the preseason, it did not show in the fourth quarter Tuesday, when Rivers said he thought the team’s defensive discipline broke down. There were plenty of plays where a defender was late to rotate to a 3-point shooter and others where the timing of a help defender on a driving guard was off just enough to draw a foul or give up a layup. That’s what the process is all about.
“Being on string, getting Blake and DeAndre [Jordan] to work together on the defensive end because they are so talented and athletic,” Matt Barnes said, “I think that’s something we’ve focused on all training camp with Chris and myself and everybody, being on string and knowing that if you make the rotation then your partner has your back.”
Griffin explained the idea of trust on the defensive end. “Not so much, ‘I don’t think this guy’s going to help me,’ but it’s just one of those things when you’re scrambling around you kind of revert back to old habits. We’ve done it. We’ve shown at times we can do it, but we have to do it when the lights come on and for a full 48 minutes.”
On Tuesday, particularly in the first half, the Clippers executed a few picture-esqe defensive possessions. They forced Steve Blake off the 3-point line, recovered to Chris Kaman in the post and caused an errant jumper by the former Clippers big man, on one play, for instance. It just didn’t happen enough.
“Defense is defense somewhat,” Griffin said. “Calls are different, some schemes are different, but at the same time it’s defense. We can make up for some mistakes by intensity and hustling and things like that. We can’t use the excuse that these are new schemes.”
And while the schemes may be different Rivers is not throwing out everything the Clippers did well a year ago.
“First of all, I thought we were a pretty good defensive team last year,” Rivers said. “I don’t think [former Head Coach] Vinny [Del Negro] or this team got enough credit. I thought they were really good last year defensively. There were areas that we struggled in. We couldn’t guard the 3-point line and the transition D last year was a struggle. We’re just trying to still fix those two things. I don’t think we have it fixed yet, but it’s something that we work on every day.”
Last season, the Clippers held opponents to 94.6 points per game (fourth in the NBA), forced 15.8 turnovers, led the NBA in steals and were ninth in defensive efficiency. But those numbers were aided by the 17-game winning streak and a franchise-high 44 double-digit victories and were nonexistent in the final four games of their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“The difference from this year to last year is just the little things,” Hollins said. “Doc loves our passion, our chemistry, so he’s not trying to revamp everything. But taking our passion and our chemistry and adding in the fine details of the game.
“He’s not trying to say, ‘You do this. You do that. This isn’t last year.’ He talks about we and us. He’ll talk about a game we had last year and he’ll say, ‘We did this or we did that.’ He doesn’t say, ‘You guys did that last year.’ It’s building from what we had. He’s not trying to tear down anything.”
But there is still building to do and trust to gain.
“You can pick it up because we’ve done it in certain spots and I thought we did it in the first half in a lot of ways,” Rivers said after the Lakers game. “I thought the second group broke down the most and then once they started making shots, then we all lost our discipline. It’s not rocket science. What it is is the monotony of doing it day in and day out and getting into the habits and trusting the habits. We’ll get there, but it’s just going to take time.”