The most highly-anticipated season in the history of the Los Angeles Clippers got off to a rather inauspicious start after a shocking double-digit loss at the hands of the undermanned Lakers on opening night, but since then, the ship has apparently been righted.
Following back-to-back wins over the other two California teams, the Warriors and the Kings, the Clippers returned to Staples Center Monday night and beat the previously-undefeated Houston Rockets 137-118.
Chris Paul was phenomenal yet again, finishing with 23 points and 17 assists. He’s now recorded a points/assists double-double in each of L.A.’s four games this season, and has missed just one of his 39 free throw attempts. He was running circles around Rockets defenders all night, but I suppose that could be said about pretty much any Clipper.
J.J. Redick led the Clips with a season-high 26 points as the team finished the game having shot over 52 percent from the field. They led from the first possession through the remainder of the game, and scored a whopping 78 first-half points.
Houston’s two stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard, got themselves into foul trouble early on and were never really able to find a rhythm in the game. Harden finished with a season-low 15 points and missed all seven of his three-point attempts, while Howard had 13 points and nine rebounds, tying season-lows.
The Rockets were able to stick around for a while in this game due to bench contributions. Omri Casspi came in after Howard picked up a pair of early fouls, and finished with a team-best 19 points and nine rebounds, including 3-6 from beyond-the-arc. Francisco Garcia, Greg Smith and Aaron Brooks combined to score another 35 points for Houston off-the-bench.
But there was no stopping the Clippers. Houston’s defensive effort was clearly lackluster, but credit to the Clipper offense is warranted, as well. We’re just four games into the season, yet the team already looks lightyears ahead of where it was last season offensively. Gone are the days of Vinny del Negro’s vanilla offense featuring a Chris Paul/Blake Griffin high pick-and-roll and nothing else. L.A.’s starting wings for the majority of last season were Willie Green/Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler. Yuck.
Butler was never a fit with the rest of the team, as his offensive game requires him to have the ball in his hands, jab step a few times, dribble once and pull-up for a contested midrange jumper. This is also known as the least-efficient possible way to play offense. Billups battled injuries and was ineffective once he was actually able to step onto the court, and Willie Green was a bench warmer serenading as a starter due to the lack of an alternative.
The Eric Bledsoe trade brought Jared Dudley and Redick into the fold, and they’re fitting their roles as spot-up shooters beautifully. The two combined to score 41 points Monday on over 50% combined shooting. Instead of running the aforementioned high screen-and-roll and flanking the ball-handler with an isolation brick-layer (Butler) and a “meh” shooter (Green), the Clippers now have weapons that fit perfectly. Two athletic bigs, two upper-tier shooters and the league’s very best point guard.
If you watch even the first few seconds of the video below, you can see how generic the offense was last season. Griffin is often following Paul around trying to set screens. Once Paul is able to come around the screen, there’s really nowhere for him to go. Memphis was probably the league’s best defensive team last season, and the Clips had no chance. There was an awful lot of dribbling going on. I’d recommend not watching that whole thing, unless you’re some kind of masochist.
You’ll still see plenty of the same pick-and-roll action in the Doc Rivers Clipper offense, but defenses can’t just sit back and key-in on that anymore. Dudley and Redick are often run off of twin screens from the bigs on the low block, and are freed out into the corners, where Paul can quickly hit them for a pull-up three. If that isn’t there, then there’s a decent chance one of the wings can find one of the bigs posted up with a favorable matchup against a smaller player that switched off on the previous screen.
So, instead of a high pick-and-roll with absolutely no backup plan, the Clippers’ offense is now predicated on ball movement. And when you have the shooters and athletes the Clippers have, it’s nearly impossible to stop it defensively, unless the Clippers are flat-out missing their shots.
Granted, it’s still very early, and none of the Lakers, Warriors, Kings or Rockets is the second coming of the ’04 Pistons defensively or anything. It’ll be far more telling when the Clippers are matched up against defensive stalwarts like Indiana, Chicago or San Antonio.
But so far, so good. The Clippers do rank 30th out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency, which is a problem that we’ll get into later, but the offense is clicking out-of-the-gates, which is quite refreshing for a team that has done so little with so much talent over the past couple of seasons.
We’ll next see the Clippers in Orlando to take on the Magic on Wednesday.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.