With Blake Griffin in tow and a cast of young talent flanking him, there’s finally reason for optimism in Clipperland. That young talent was on display during the Clippers’ 116-108 victory over the Knicks, though the team still leaves much to be desired.
Let’s examine that game to see what the Clippers have and what the Clippers will need to escape the dregs of the Western Conference.
Not only is Blake Griffin talented, but he has a high motor. Of his 17 field goal attempts, three came in transition where he:
- Sprinted down the court after his man shot a jumper, easily beating the Knicks down for a dunk.
- Finished on the break with a nifty left-handed layup
- On defense, stepped in the way of Danilo Gallinari at halfcourt, forcing him to lose his dribble. Sensing the ball rolling to a teammate, Griffin sprinted down, caught an outlet pass, and hustled himself into a layup.
Clearly Griffin has unbridled athleticism forcing opponents’ court balance to be at a premium, and opposing big men to hustle back in transition.
In more conventional offense, Griffin was 7-14. He posted up 10 times, eight times via planting himself or dribbling himself into the post, twice after receiving a cross-screen. The results were as follows:
- On a baseline out of bounds play, Vinny Del Negro drew up a play that had Griffin receiving a back screen to establish post position. The Knicks switched Raymond Felton onto him after the screen and promptly smothered Griffin when he received the ball. Griffin made the appropriate pass out of the double and as the ball got swung, flashed to the other side of the court for a catch-and-dunk.
- After setting up in the left mid-post with Amar’e Stoudemire on his top shoulder, he adjusted to an overthrown entry pass, caught the ball, drop stepped, and with Stoudemire playing on the top side, was square with the basket to complete another rim-rocker.
- After facing Stoudemire, he attempted a clumsy left-to-right spin move that pounded the backboard.
- After coming around a cross-screen, Griffin missed a makeable layup.
- Another post up also saw him miss a lefty layup.
- A sixth post up allowed Griffin to drop in a right hook.
- After a receiving a cross-screen, Griffin used the screen, but found himself well behind the backboard. No matter. He caught the ball and in one pivot, created enough space to hit an elegant scoop layup.
- Griffin posted up once again on the left block and as he turned over his left shoulder came back to his right and missed a close shot. Griffin clearly does not trust his left hand and it’s far les developed than his right.
- Late in the game, Griffin posted up on the right box and missed a right hook over a double team.
- Later, Griffin tired another right hook from the right block over Wilson Chandler but Stoudemire provided well-timed help and blocked the shot from the side.
All in all, Griffin finished 4-10 in the post for eight points.
Griffin is also comfortable passing out of the post especially on the catch. He has average passing skills and plus vision for a power forward, though teammates missed several shots that resulted from accurate passes. His two assists came on rudimentary out passes after the Knicks doubled or dug and failed to rotate, and his turnover came when an off-target pass to DeAndre Jordan was broken up and intercepted.
Griffin was also able to spin off Stoudemire and dunk in a 30-foot pass on a broken play.
He rounded out his shooting with an awkward missed floater on a drive from the top of the key, by rolling on a screen, avoiding a defensive rotation, hanging in the air, and hitting a sweet banker, and by cutting to the basket and recording an uncontested dunk.
Griffin can also handle and outleap most players on the glass.
With his combination of athleticism, power, and skills, Griffin is a generational big man, and he has enough post polish to be more than just a highlight reel. Offensively, he’s a legitimate offensive force.
While Jordan doesn’t have Griffin’s polish, he’s another high flyer who can get up the court, present a target, and finish. Most of his success came from lounging around the hoop and collecting cookies from teammates, but one possession, he simply cut down the lane, received an alley-oop pass and dunked, creating offense out of nothing.
His long arms and wingspan make him a talented shot blocker, and a key swat on a Wilson Chandler pull-up helped the Clippers seal the deal late in the game. He also wasn’t suckered into taking the numerous open jumpers the Knicks afforded him throughout the contest.
Ryan Gomes came to play, hitting 8-11 shots, all but one of them jumpers. He also stayed with Amar’e around a curl—a difficult play to stop—forcing Stoudemire into a missed jumper. Gomes is a quality fourth forward on a good team.
Randy Foye made a number of difficult shots, especially late in the fourth to kill the Knicks’ comeback attempt.
Baron Davis’ 16 assists are inflated by the Knicks’ absent interior defense, but more often than not, he was able to draw a crowd and find the open man, usually Griffin or Jordan for an open dunk, or Gomes for a mid-range jumper.
Eric Bledsoe is another impressive youngster with good creativity. Of his many highlights, he was able to curl around a screen, hang, and hit a scoop layup. He hit two more complicated layups, plus knocked down three of his five jump shots, made several nifty drive-and-drop passes, and showed good smarts in punishing the Knicks’ press by immediately attacking the rim for an assist on a layup.
Most impressive was Bledsoe’s energy, which led to a cut for a layup and four offensive-rebounds. He even played respectable one-on-one defense at times. While he’s still learning the game, Bledsoe is a player who makes things happen.
On the whole, the Clippers did a terrific job of pushing the ball, even after makes, preventing a poor Knicks defense from having the chance to get set. The Clippers also played relatively unselfish and won wholly on the strength of their explosive frontcourt.
As good as Blake Griffin is on offense is as bad as he is on defense. Aside from a pair of charges—where he was clumsily off balance and overwhelmed by Stoudemire, but Stoudemire needlessly ran him over—Griffin spent the entire game giving up too much room to Knicks shooters, getting beaten at the point of attack by Knicks penetrates, and channeling his inner statue when playing help defense.
Jordan is another inferior defender. While shot-blocking is his pedigree, he sells out to swat shots, often leaving his own man wide open in the process. The Knicks took advantage of his lack of discipline for over a dozen layups at his expense. He also did a poor job defending screens and perimeter. His only impressive defensive play, aside from his late block, came when Stoudemire faced him up and Jordan stayed with him goading him into a miss.
Also, while Griffin and Jordan looked to slip most screens, the ones they did try to set where nearly all whiffs. And neither player—nor any other Clipper—boxes out.
Of Griffin’s five turnovers, one came on an aforementioned bad pass, and one came on a three-second violation, but one came on a careless travel, another when he tried to rip the ball through Stoudemire but was too upright, and a final one when he over dribbled and was stripped by a help defender—all suggesting Griffin needs to work on his awareness, but all correctable in time.
Griffin also needs to get into a lower stance on defense. He’s far too upright which makes it difficult for him to make quick movements.
Davis and Foye combined to forced a dozen shots or drives. Neither played any defense aside from gambling into passing lanes, and Davis especially elected to keep his hands at his sides when Knicks shooters were rising up.
Gomes lacks the foot speed to be anything more than a facilitating backup and an average defender.
Bledsoe plays a bit out of control, while Foye is a poor passer.
Ike Diogu displayed his poor awareness early in the second quarter where with five seconds left on the shot clock, he caught an inbounds pass under the basket, didn’t go up for an immediate layup—despite being open—held the ball, was swarmed, then panicked and through the ball back out to a teammate as the clock expired.
The Clippers screen defense was awful, with poor grades on the bigs for inadequate shows or zones, poor grade on the help which was often absent, and poor grades for the man defending the ball as neither Davis, Foye, or Bledsoe made any concerted effort to get over the screens, elected to go under and take their chances instead.
Los Angeles also frequently miscommunicated and failed to rotate on the perimeter as well, and were lucky the Knicks shot so poorly (6-26) from downtown.
So while the Clippers are talented, they only play offense and they still lack the sophistication to be consistently reliable against good defenses. The simple return of Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman’s mechanical post game wouldn’t change that. If those traits aren’t changed, the Clippers will just be another dangerous, but severely flawed team in a murderous conference.
Let’s see if Griffin (and his teammates) can come back next season with a more aggressive defensive disposition before putting a timeline on their expectations. If he comes back the same old Griffin, the Clippers will continue to be the same old Clippers.