Although it remains something of a stretch, coach Doc Rivers would like to have you believe that the Clippers have a Big Three in Los Angeles, made up of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Whether Jordan deserves that status on a permanent basis is dubious, but tonight in Philadelphia, those three were without question big. Griffin (26 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots), Paul (25 points, 13 assists and three steals) and Jordan (11 points and 21 rebounds) combined to shoot 24-39 -- while the rest of the team shot 11-43. But against a 76ers team VERY short on talent, three was enough, as the Clippers won 94-83.
The Clippers' inability to make three pointers has reached a critical level though. Two nights after missing 28 out of 35 three points in Cleveland, a success rate of just 20%, one might have thought the Clippers could scarcely do any worse. One would have been wrong. The team was 5-27 in Philadelphia, just 18.5%. Consider for a moment that Paul was 2-3 -- Paul is the point guard, and not the guy who's supposed to be making threes per se. The rest of the team, the players who are nominally labeled "shooters" in the scheme of things, were 3-24, "led" by Jared Dudley (1-8), Willie Green (1-6) and Jamal Crawford (1-6).
Not every stat head agrees on everything, but most anyone who has put some thought into it agrees that there are three places on a basketball court where teams score with the highest level of efficiency -- these are pretty straightforward, data driven facts. Those three places are at the rim (layups and dunks are good, as you might suspect), at the free throw line (there's no defense against a free throw) and the corner three pointer, which is shorter than three pointers "above the break" and therefore yield a higher percentage of makes. Modern NBA offenses are designed to generate as many of those kinds of shots as possible.
The Clippers' offense was incredibly effective at generating corner threes in this game. The team shot three of them in the first quarter and seven more in the second quarter, the vast majority of them completely uncontested, wide open looks. They made one. For the game they were 3-18 from the corners -- an effective field goal percentage of .25 on one of the best shots in basketball. So the offense was great -- it was just the shooters who sucked. Make four more of those corner threes (a modest 39%, below the league average for that shot) and the Clippers score 106 points in this game.
At one point in the second half, Mike Smith was saying that when the three isn't falling, as it was not for Dudley, the player should take a step in and take the slightly shorter shot. I'm not going to discuss the psychology of that philosophy, which is ultimately completely unknowable. From a statistical standpoint, he's dead wrong. An open three is one of the best shots available in the NBA while a long two is the absolute worst shot, for the very simple reason that one more step doesn't significantly change the cost of the shot (i.e. the success rate is not very different) but the benefit of the longer shot is 50% higher. So if Green and Dudley and Crawford are out there to shoot threes, then all they can do is keep shooting -- passing up good shots is a sure way to lose.
The difference between the team's offense when they are making jump shots and when they are not making jump shots really could not be much more stark. Green, Dudley and Griffin combined to make four jumpers in a row (including two corner threes) in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. Lo and behold, the Clippers went on a 13-0 run to stretch the lead to a game high 21. For the final 16 minutes of the game, no one other than Paul scored outside of the paint, Clippers not named Chris Paul missed 11 straight jump shots, and a 76ers team that had nothing beyond Evan Turner, closed the gap to seven points, and came within a charge/block call of coming within four and fouling Griffin out of the game with 90 seconds left. Yeesh.
Look, I know it sounds simplistic, but you have to make shots. The Clippers are lucky that Griffin was dominant inside in this game, that Paul is awfully damn good, and that Jordan had the second best rebounding night of his career. And they're lucky that Philadelphia sucks. Because it's hard to win in the NBA if you can't make some outside shots, and the Clippers haven't been able to make any for awhile.
The loss of J.J. Redick hurts, but he's not back for many weeks, so the guys who are going out there have got to be better. If they start hitting shots again, then everything is going to start looking better for the Clippers. If they don't the team is going to struggle. But all they can do is keep on shooting.