VERSATILE COLLISON HAS BEEN DIFFERENCE MAKER FOR CLIPPERS
There was a point a week ago when Darren Collison gave up at least seven inches in height to three consecutive opponents he was asked to defend.
On average Gerald Green, Klay Thompson and Gordon Hayward dwarfed Collison by 7.7 inches and 36 pounds. Forced into big minutes against the giants as the starting shooting guard, the 6-foot, 175-pound guard more than held his own.
It was reminiscent of a few weeks earlier, when pressed into playing the second half against Houston’s James Harden, Collison helped tilt the game defensively and led the Clippers to their third victory of what would be 11 in a row.
“He’s doing everything,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “You know, it’s just his willingness to guard guys out of position, to try to hold his own. Going into the Golden State game, we told him he’s going to get posted up and just to deal with it because we just like the other matchups. So, he would have to do it; and he keeps his composure.”
It’s likely no coincidence the Clippers (48-21) lost for the first time in nearly a month without Collison, who missed his second game in a row Monday with a stomach virus. He has done yeoman’s work filling in for Jamal Crawford, who in turn was filling in for J.J. Redick. In seven starts since Mar. 1, Collison averaged 16.3 points and 3.4 assists, shot 49.4 percent from the floor and played 40 minutes or more four times, effectively serving as the starting shooting guard and backup point guard.
How has Collison juggled so many roles, yet remained one of the most consistently effective Clippers over the couple of months?
“I’ve been a starting point guard before, so I just play my game,” Collison said. “When I’m at the two, I’m good at scoring the ball as well, being aggressive. I’ve been shooting the ball pretty well; so, I’m just playing my game. On the defensive end, I love playing defense. So, I love playing bigger guards at times and being aggressive with them. That’s all a part of my game.”
Collison’s love of defense likely dates back to his four years at UCLA under Ben Howland. Collison, and other former Bruins including fellow Clipper Ryan Hollins, has credited Howland with preparing them to play high-level defense in the NBA.
The defensive edge, though, is also something simply engrained in Collison. He was a prep star at Etiwanda High in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and finished his career as one of the state’s best players. He helped the Bruins make three Final Four appearances in four seasons in Westwood. His ability to alter games defensively, then, with quick hands, an ability to pressure the ball the length of the floor and as Rivers might say just merely being a nuisance, is the same thing he is doing now.
“He’s just been good all around,” Rivers said. “But his defensive pressure has been phenomenal. It’s been game-changing at times. So, it’s been great.”
There are not precise statistics to enumerate what he’s been able to do as undersized shooting guard. But in the seven March games he played, the opposing starters finished shooting just 38.4 percent from the field. Remove a 6-for-7 outing by Kyle Korver, who was being chased around by Chris Paul as much as Collison, and Thompson’s 10-for-19 game a week ago and that number dips to 28.3 percent.
All of that despite fighting through screens off the ball, defending in isolation situations and defending post up after post up.
“I just try to do my work early,” Collison said. “A lot of these guys, they want to post me, so I know that. So, if I do my work early and try to force them out as much as I can, I don’t want to take them out too much, but if I can force them out as much as I can, then I’ll be fine.”
Asked if Collison is strong enough to fight with guys like Green or Thompson or Andre Iguodala in the post, Rivers said, “He thinks he is, and I think that’s very important in a lot of ways, perceived strength. There are a lot of guys like that, and they’ll fight you. I think the fact that he’s not going to back down. Iguodala was trying to post him, and he couldn’t move him. D.C. holds his ground.”
Whether it’s been against guys bigger than him, starting in place of Paul for 18 games at point guard or stifling someone like Harden or Eric Gordon, Collison has held his ground all season. And the Clippers are better for it.