SECOND-HALF DEFENSE PROOF CLIPPERS MAKING STRIDES

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin share the postgame podium on a nightly basis at Staples Center.

Win or lose, the Clippers’ two most recognizable stars spend at least a brief period of time sitting next to one another. They play off of one another, sometimes comically, such as when Paul removes cans of Red Bull from the table and Griffin, a Red Bull endorser, puts them back only after popping one open.

There is undeniable chemistry between the two. That’s what made Wednesday’s comments about the Clippers’ defense seem both meaningful and honest. Paul and Griffin both know where the team ranks in terms of defensive statistics. The Clippers (6-3) are 28th in defensive efficiency (105.7 points per 100 possessions). They allow 106 points per game, more than any team in the NBA, and allow opponents to shoot 47.4 percent (26th in the league) and have given up 48.2 points per game in the paint.

And when asked about a game-changing surge against the Thunder on Wednesday night that started with the Clippers’ defense, Paul and Griffin were in accord.

“Me and Blake just talked about it in the locker room,” Paul said. “We said that second half we’ve got to find a way to compete like that every night. If we play that defense we played in the second half, and we lose… I’m fine with it. We’re fine with it.”

Griffin nodded twice and audibly agreed in the middle of Paul’s statement.  

“If we compete like that, we give ourselves a chance to win and doing that every night we’ll be tough to beat,” Paul continued.

Defense

It would be one thing if the talk did not amount to anything. They have been inconsistent. But there have been bright spots. They’re tied with the Pistons for the league lead in points off turnovers (21.7 per game) and for the second year in a row are amongst the best in the league in steals per game.

Griffin has said the system that new Head Coach Doc Rivers put in place is still being fine-tuned, that the team is not necessarily still learning it, but just trying to get comfortable.

Rivers made a similar assessment a few minutes before Griffin and Paul spoke.

“We’re getting there. Like [Chris Paul] said this morning, he can feel how close we are,” Rivers said. “But it takes all five guys. Even if one guy doesn’t do it, it breaks your defense down.”

Most of the leaks have evaporated in the second half of the Clippers’ last three games. Rivers talks a lot about seeing signs of the defense coming around. In the last six quarters after halftime, they have been more like a foretelling. The Clippers have played with urgency. They have played with intensity. They turned deficits into leads and close games into double-digit margins.

Is that ideal? Not at all, according to Griffin.

“We’ve got to do a better job of not relaxing,” Griffin said after the Clippers’ 111-103 win over the Thunder on Wednesday. “I feel like we keep saying the same things over and over, but that’s a good thing that it’s on our mind and that’s what we want to achieve that full 48 minutes of defensive intensity.”

Since trailing by 15 entering the third quarter in Houston on Nov. 9, the Clippers have allowed an average of 85.6 points per 100 possessions in the second half.  Against the Thunder, they held one of the most athletic and deadly transition teams scoreless on the break in the third quarter. They went on a 31-11 run to rip away control of the game.

“I thought it was terrific,” Rivers said of the defense against Oklahoma City. “But again, I think it’s the third time that we didn’t make an adjustment, and we came out and pitched a great defensive performance. I told our guys before the game, ‘We now know it. Now we’ve got to go from knowing it to doing it, then doing it, and then doing it all the time.’ That’s where we are at right now defensively.”

If Griffin and Paul heard their coach speaking through the wall that separates the locker room from the press conference room, they would likely have interjected just as Griffin had earlier.