Simplified Defense Producing Results In Early January
LOS ANGELES – Head coach Doc Rivers wouldn’t let DeAndre Jordan go without thanking J.J. Redick.
As the Clippers made another stride defensively Sunday afternoon, looking more and more reminiscent of the elite defensive group that helped them win 14 of their first 16 games of the season, one play in particular stood out as Rivers’ favorite on the way to the Clippers’ fourth straight win.
Jordan often helps his teammates when an opponent blows by, but when he offers help and the original player he was guarding ends up getting an offensive rebound or a basket, that can make him furious. Redick made sure no such anger would occur against the Heat.
After Jordan helped, Miami tried to dump it into Heat center Hassan Whiteside, but Redick was right there and a turnover ensued.
“DJ’s always so mad whenever he goes to help and his guy gets an offensive rebound or a dunk,” Redick said. “I sunk on Whiteside, which I tend to do – I’m pretty consistent with that. DJ doesn’t always thank me for it… so Doc just wanted some acknowledgement.”
Jordan granted that request, as the Clippers remained on a string defensively to start 2017.
When one person helps, someone else is there to help that person. Chris Paul said it’s a result of better communication.
It’s also a result of more simplicity.
The Clippers held the Heat to 36.9 percent shooting Sunday, marking the second time in the last four games the Clippers forced an opponent to shoot worse than 40 percent. Prior to the start of January, the Clippers hadn’t done that once since Nov. 9.
One of the keys, Rivers said, is getting back to the basics.
He thought the Clippers were trying to be too clever at times, particularly after Blake Griffin got injured. So, Rivers said he instructed assistant coach Brendan O’Connor, who’s largely in charge of the defense, to scale it back.
“I always go back to what the great (former NFL head coach) Don Shula used to say – ‘The more you think, the less you play hard,’” Rivers said.
Specifically, Rivers thought the Clippers were switching too much. Sometimes, it confused even him. At first, only two guards were switching. Then, he noticed three players switching. Then four.
“We had a game where all five positions were switching on some of the things,” Rivers said.
That’s not to say the Clippers shouldn’t ever switch, as Rivers noted they still did on occasion Sunday against the Heat. But he thought it was happening too often during the six-game losing skid, and when they started switching off the ball, he knew it was too much.
The turn of the calendar has brought with it crisper defense and, not coincidentally, more wins.
After allowing five of their last six teams opponents at the end of December to shoot better than 43.3 percent, the Clippers haven’t done that once during their four-game winning streak to start 2017.
“We’re just back to being us,” Rivers said.
Jordan said that entails limiting teams to one shot, not letting opponents catch the ball where they want to on the block and, perhaps most importantly, getting back in transition.
In their final three games of a six-game losing streak, they were outscored by 73 points on fast breaks. Sunday afternoon, they doubled up the Heat in fast-break points, 24-12.
“I definitely think we’ve stabilized a little bit,” said J.J. Redick. “I’ve said this before, but I think sometimes during the course of a year you sort of forget what your identity is and what makes you good, and what made us good at the beginning of the year in that first little stretch of games was how hard we’ve played. I think we’ve gotten back to that."