DAY 4: EARNING TRUST ON DEFENSE
LA JOLLA – The Clippers wrapped up training camp a day early on Friday morning after a more than two-hour practice at UC San Diego’s RIMAC Arena.
Of all the objectives Head Coach Doc Rivers hoped to accomplish 120 miles south of L.A., establishing the framework for the team’s defensive identity was arguably number one.
“It is the focus,” Blake Griffin said. “This is a coaching staff that has preached it from the beginning and we actually work on it every single day, more so than we do our offense. I think that shapes the tone of the team.”
Rivers has insisted all week that the Clippers were not a poor defensive team last season. They led the NBA in steals, held opponents to 94.6 points per game and forced a league-high 15.4 turnovers. But the team’s struggles against the 3-point shot (37.3 percent from opponents, 26th in the league) and trouble in transition defense were both areas that Rivers and his staff have emphasized since the onset of camp Tuesday.
He has been pleased so far.
“They’ve been great,” Rivers said. “It’s funny. Alvin Gentry, who is more of our offensive coach, said, ‘Geez, I’m having a tough time scoring right now.’ And I said, ‘And that’s good.’ If at some point this year, if we can get to the point where it’s easier to score against our opponent than it is in practice, then we know our defense has arrived.”
Until then, it will remain a work in progress, which means establishing a sense of trust amongst teammates on that end of the floor.
“The biggest thing with the defense is we have to trust that next guy’s going to be there to help, being at that rotation,” Griffin said. ”You can’t help somebody else if you don’t trust that somebody else your back. You can’t help them fully.”
Phrases like “help the helper” only work when everyone is engaged and Rivers has employed more than just defensive terminology to help get that message across. He had the team traveling in vans by position group all week with Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan selected to hold the keys. They have eaten almost every meal together. They have bought in.
“The more trust you have in your teammates, the more trust you have in yourself, when you show up on your good nights they’re going to use you and on your bad nights they’re going to pick you up,” Rivers said. “They want to be better. They want to do the right stuff. They want to listen, so they’re allowing me to coach them. That makes it a lot easier for me, but if they didn’t want to it would be very hard.”
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CAMP ENDS WITH TRIP TO MOVIES
After the conclusion of Friday morning’s practice, Rivers gathered the group together at center court and asked if they would prefer to practice Friday night and Saturday afternoon or watch a movie together Friday and go home Saturday.
The answer seemed obvious, but Rivers said he was surprised by the hesitation by the group before they chose the latter. Asked if they thought it may have been a trick Rivers laughed.
“They did think it was a trick question,” Rivers said. “But I don’t play a lot of tricks.”
In reality, the upcoming schedule made it somewhat of an easy decision for Rivers, who conducted six practices over the last four days.
“I just thought we needed a day off honestly,” Rivers said. “We just need a break. We’ve gone very hard. We have a game on Monday (at Portland) and I didn’t want to give them Sunday off and then play a game.”
The Clippers will practice Sunday in Los Angeles before traveling to Portland for their preseason debut on Monday.