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Clippers Vs. Nets - Disastrously Bad Defense on the Final Possession


I have watched a lot of basketball in my life. On the back of the envelope, I'd guess I've watched many thousands of games over the years. And I cannot recall a team playing worse defense on the final possession of a one possession game than what we saw from the Los Angeles Clippers against the New Jersey Nets tonight.

Teams win games on buzzer beaters all the time. On the same night that Jordan Farmar beat the Clippers in New Jersey, Derrick Rose beat the buzzer against the Bucks. It happens all the time.

I've seen teams get layups at the buzzer. I've seen great scorers beat solid defense. I've seen great play calling fool defenses and result in easy baskets. But I've never seen anything like what the Clippers did tonight; such disastrously ill-conceived and poorly executed defense.

Jordan Farmar is making 46% of his threes this season. On a team with Anthony Morrow and Deron Williams, it is Farmar who leads the Nets in three point percentage. He had already burned the Clippers for back to back threes earlier in this game, so even if they didn't know the scouting report, they really should have noticed that he can shoot.

The Nets didn't set a screen for Farmar. They didn't run a play for him. They didn't spread the floor and find him with the extra pass. The Clippers defense intentionally and willfully left Farmar alone to take a shootaround three pointer. Chris Paul left Farmar to double team Williams 40 feet from the basket, Williams made one pass, and Farmar shot a wide open three pointer. It was a gift. How does this happen?

My first reaction was that Paul must have been free-lancing -- that his unsuccessful attempt to pressure the inbounds pass to Williams got him a little lost in no man's land and then he made the poor decision to just go ahead and doulbe Williams from there. But then I realized that this is Chris Paul we're talking about, and if he was doubling Williams in that situation, it was probably because he was told to do so.

Sure enough, after the game Coach Vinny Del Negro explained that the Clippers had failed to rotate. That they wanted to get the ball of Williams' hands so that he would not beat them, and that the rest of the Clippers (that would be your choice of Kenyon Martin, Mo Williams or Blake Griffin) missed the rotation. So it's clearly not Paul's fault, and to hear Vinny talk, it's not his fault either. But isn't it?

Here's my question: why are the Clippers double teaming the ball 40 feet from the basket with a two point lead and less than five seconds left? Yes, Deron Williams is the Nets best scorer -- but more than that, he's the Nets best playmaker. The strategy of doubling Williams to get the ball out of his hands had helped the Clippers get back into the game in the fourth quarter, there's no denying that. But the Clippers were behind at that point -- they had to take chances, they had to speed up the game. It's a high risk, high reward tactic. Up two with five seconds left is NOT the time for a high risk high reward approach. The Nets had Williams, Farmar, Morrow and MarShon Brooks on the floor for that final play, with Kris Humphries planted under the basket. Doubling Williams on top is necessarily leaving a shooter wide open.

The execution of the strategy was of course horrendously bad. Since there was no screen for Williams bringing a second defender into his vicinity, Paul had to just leave Farmar to go to double team. But neither Williams nor Martin seemed to even realize that rotating might be a good idea until Farmar already had the ball and was lining up his shot. If the plan was (step 1) double team and (step 2) rotate, it broke down pretty quickly.

But blaming the execution is not enough in this case. The strategy was flat out stupid. Deron Williams is sixth in the NBA in assists per game for FSM's sake. He averages over 8 assists per game. This isn't a single minded scorer or a challenged ball handler we're talking about. Why on earth, with less than five seconds on the clock and the ball in Williams' hands, would you intentionally leave a shooter wide open? Which, let's face it, with or without a rotation, a shooter was going to be open if you decide to double Williams. It can be difficult to score in 24 seconds in the NBA -- it's really difficult in just 5 seconds. The Clippers handed New Jersey a shot when all they had to do was play tough defense for 5 seconds. Might Williams have hit a tough shot to send the game into overtime or even to win it? Sure. Because sometimes good offense beats good defense. But even mediocre offense can beat asinine defense.

The Clippers will lament many issues in this loss. They gave up seven points in final possessions. Paul committed five first half turnovers. Grffin missed seven free throws. They played abysmal defense throughout the first half before getting serious. They even picked up yet another couple of technical fouls in the fourth quarter of a one point loss. But none of that would have mattered if they'd played even reasonable defense on the final possession.

This one isn't on Mo or Kenyon for not rotating. It's on Vinny for having them in the wrong defense at the wrong time.