GRIFFIN ON DEFENSE: ‘WE SLIPPED BUT HOPEFULLY WE’RE NOT SLIPPING’
ATLANTA – There was a running theme in the Clippers’ locker room after Wednesday’s road-trip opening loss to the Hawks.
“We didn’t really have a good rhythm defensively,” forward Jared Dudley said. “I think the most stops we got in a row was three. Offensively, especially myself early on, we had great looks. We just didn’t hit them. The offense suffers when you play 82 games. That’s going to happen. Defensively you’ve got to be able to create your offense.”
Creating offense from their defense was something the Clippers thrived on a year ago and they have done it in spurts this season. A quarter here, a half there. They put together a brilliant second half against the Rockets three weeks ago that led to a come-from-behind victory and another one a few days later against Oklahoma City at Staples Center.
There have been plenty of moments like those. But with Thursday’s matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies marking the 20-game point of the season, moments, according to Chris Paul, are not good enough.
Asked if he is surprised that coming together on the defensive end of the floor has taken so long, Paul said, “I am surprised because 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, part of it is pride.”
The Hawks, who were opening their longest home stand of the season Wednesday, effectively did had their way offensively. They shot 51.2 percent from the field, 52.2 percent from 3-point range. They converted 15 dunks or layups. The Hawks earned 77 of their 107 points from the three most coveted shots in basketball: the 3-ball, free throw and shots at the rim.
“The first play of the game [Kyle] Korver got a three,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “That was indicative of us the entire night. We weren’t here tonight defensively and they got comfortable.”
For everything Atlanta did offensively, the Clippers’ inability to get stops cost them on the offensive end. Too often they were taking the ball out of the basket Wednesday. They couldn’t run. And too often through 19 games, they have put themselves in situations where they’ve needed perfect offensive execution to survive.
“It’s very frustrating. It’s obviously frustrating just to lose a game, frustrating in the manner in which we lost,” Blake Griffin said. “I feel like every time we lose we put ourselves in a huge hole. I feel like a majority of [our losses] have come that way.”
Against the Hawks, they were down by a dozen in the first quarter, a game ago they were down by 14 in the first half to Indiana. Griffin said that while Wednesday was a step back from where they want to be and where they felt like they were progressing after holding four of the previous six opponents to 42-perent shooting or worse, it does not call for an extreme overreaction.
“I thought yesterday we had a great defensive practice and covered all of the things we messed up on tonight,” he said. “We slipped, but hopefully we’re not slipping. We have that mindset of turning it around.”
But there are some things that may need turning around quicker than others. The Clippers are one of the most porous teams in the league in terms of defensive efficiency, giving up 103.3 points per 100 possessions. They allow 44.8 points per game in the paint and 17 points a game off turnovers. But while their high-powered offense has kept them afloat, seemingly everyone from Paul to Griffin to Dudley to Jamal Crawford believe they must establish themselves defensively first.
“It hasn’t happened yet,” Crawford said. “It’s happened in spurts, but it hasn’t happened consistently enough where we’re known as a defensive team.”
How do they get there?
“We’ve got to play together,” Paul said. “It sounds simple, but I think everybody’s got to be on the same page every possession. We’ve got to be more consistent.”
Griffin added: “I think we should have it. Defense is one of those things you can control just by the intensity and being down and ready and the willingness to [do it].”
But at a certain point, the execution has to happen.
“After a while it can’t be ‘my bad’ or ‘I’m sorry,’” Dudley said. “You’ve got to get it done.”
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