0.83. I'm sure you all are wondering why I started off this article with a number. Well, it's quite simple. 0.83 is what the Clippers defense is allowing in regards to Points Per Possession. It's the fourth lowest mark in the NBA. Who has the lowest mark? There's a three-way tie for the top spot, actually. Those teams being the Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers. All three are at 0.82 PPP. You're reading that right. The defense that people love to hate on this site is actually 0.01 worse than the best defense(s) in the NBA this season.
Of the three teams ranked ahead of them in defense, the Clippers have played two but have played them three times. They've played the Grizzlies and the Bulls (twice). In those three games the Clippers are averaging 98.67 points while they're allowing 87.0 points. The Clippers, in those three games, have given up 90+ points just once. And that was a 92 point outing by the Grizzlies on opening night. So, against the best defenses in the NBA, the Clippers are still averaging damn near 100 points. When they played the Grizzlies on opening night, they surrendered 0.79 points per possession. That's a staggering mark. When they played the Bulls the first time, they gave up 0.69 points per possession. An even more staggering mark. When they ended up traveling to Chicago for the second meeting, they allowed 0.82 points per possession. Incredible when you really think about it. As for the Clippers offense in those three games, they averaged 0.93, 1.01, and 0.89 points per possession. That's, in order, the games against the Grizzlies, the Bulls in Los Angeles, and the Bulls in Chicago.
How has the Clippers defense done against the best offenses in the league, you ask? Well, here goes. The Clippers, at the present moment, have the fifth best offense in the NBA at 0.96 points per possession. I'm, obviously, going to leave them out of this since they don't play against their own defense except in practice and practice doesn't count here. The top four offenses in the NBA, based on points per possession, are the Oklahoma City Thunder (1.01), New York Knicks (1.00), Miami Heat (1.00), and San Antonio Spurs (0.97). The Los Angeles Lakers are sixth, directly behind the Clippers, at 0.94 points per possession. The Clippers have played five total games against those five teams. They haven't played the Knicks but they have played the Spurs twice.
The Clippers gave up 1.01 to the Thunder in their only meeting of the season thus far. That means that the Thunder played their average offensive game against the Clippers and the Clippers defense obliged. Against the Heat, the Clippers gave up 0.92 which means they held the Heat to 0.08 below their average. Not bad. In the two games against the Spurs, the Clippers gave up 0.82 and 0.79 points per possession. That means, ultimately, that the Clippers held the Spurs to, roughly, 0.17 points per possession less than they're used to. That, however you want to slice it, is impressive. And, against the Lakers, the Clippers held them to 0.91 points per possession which means 0.03 less than they average. So, of the top six offensive teams, discounting themselves of course, the Clippers have not allowed a team to average more points per possession than what they generally average. They haven't played a terrible game against any of the top offenses. It's as simple as that.
The Clippers, at this moment, rank fourth in Defensive Efficiency, giving up 98.3 points per 100 possessions. Last night against the Detroit Pistons, they gave up 88.4 points per 100 possessions. That's elite status. In fact, in this 10 game win streak, they've only had three games in which their Defensive Efficiency has topped 100+ points. Those three games were against the Minnesota Timberwolves (102.2), the Utah Jazz (113.0), and the Charlotte Bobcats (103.3). The interesting fact about those three games were the points the Clippers defense allowed in the fourth quarter. They gave up 18 to Minnesota, 21 to Utah, and 23 to Charlotte. That means they gave up an average of 20.67 points in the fourth quarter. You're gonna win quite a few games if you hold opponents to that mark in a quarter repeatedly, as evidenced last night in Detroit.
Like every single good defensive team they do have their moments and/or games in which they don't fully show up. The games against the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New Orleans Hornets certainly come to mind. Games in which our defense either couldn't close out on shooters fast enough, grab rebounds to end possessions, or rotate effectively. There were moments in those games where shooters from other teams were draining shots despite hands in their faces. It happens. I understand that, you understand that. But it definitely cannot happen often. The Clippers defense currently gives up 37.6% shooting on threes to their opponents; a mark that ranks 26th in the NBA. In other words, not good. However, their field goal percentage defense of 42.8% ranks them fourth in the NBA. 24.6% of opponent's points are coming from beyond the arc (25th) while only 56.0% of opponent's points are coming from inside the arc (2nd). So, while they're getting burned by the three ball, they're not getting burned inside the arc for the most part.
The Clippers lead the league in turnovers forced per game at 17.4. This is another thing that helps them since even though they're giving up threes at a pretty bad rate, they're still able to force turnovers which lead to easy buckets at the other end for the offense. This is highlighted in the fact that the Clippers lead the league in fastbreak points per game at 18.2. So, there is some correlation there. The Clippers also know how to close out games. They're presently giving up just 21.2 points per fourth quarter, which ranks second best in the NBA behind the Indiana Pacers (20.4). And, in the second half of games, they're giving up just 45.8 points which ranks fifth.
Before I close this, I will say that the Clippers need to shore up two areas of their defense with relative certainty. They need to stop giving up offensive rebounds. At the present moment, they're giving up 12.0 offensive rebounds per game (24th) which is leading to an offensive rebounding percentage of 28.6% for the opposition (24th). Not good. The other area that they need to fix is rotations on outside shooters. Often the team will rotate just fine on the first few passes but then get caught way out of position on the final pass to a wide open shooter. This cannot happen. It shouldn't happen. Elite defensive teams limit those kind of mental mistakes.
Lastly, this might just be nitpicking by me but it is something that will need to be addressed as the season goes along. Technical fouls. The Clippers currently lead the league in them. They have 32. The next closest team, Phoenix, has 28. The Clippers average 1.3 technical fouls per game. That's an extra point, or more, for the opposition per game. That matters. Last season, the Clippers led the league with 88. That was in 66 games. That means they averaged 1.3 technical fouls per game. That's insane. We're on the same pace this season. I know that the team has some characters on it, namely Matt Barnes who is tied for second in technical fouls with six, but this behavior has to stop. You can't win in the playoffs giving teams extra possessions or extra points because you can't keep your composure. Blake Griffin has five technical fouls this season and DeAndre Jordan has four. So, among three players, there are 15 technical fouls. That's in 24 games. That cannot happen. I understand that some of those are bogus and shouldn't have been called but they still happened. Composure is key.
So, I do hope that people realize the Clippers, at this moment in time, are playing great defense. Is it elite defense? We'll have to see as the season progresses. They certainly can't give up open shots like they have been but that should be quelled a little bit as they get more playing time together. The rotations can be crisper. The rebounding can be crisper. And the attitude can be better. Do those things and we might have an elite NBA defense on our hands, ladies and gentlemen.