Not all wins come easy. Some are the type that look like they’re going to come easy, but then you have to grind them out in the closing minutes. Last night’s win over the Sacramento Kings was one of those games. The team appeared in control early on, never really was troubled, but couldn’t quite seal the deal until the closing seconds. In this Film Room, we’re going to take a look at the last half of the last quarter and see some of the possessions that ultimately changed the result for the better as far as the Los Angeles Clippers are concerned.
During last night’s win, the Clippers gave away a double-digit lead through really no fault of their own. The Kings just got ridiculously hot from three during one stretch and the fourth quarter was just a barrage of made shots by them. Despite all of that, Los Angeles never stopped battling defensively or offensively. While their sets became a tad basic from time to time, they still were generating high-quality looks for their best players. And, let’s face it, that’s all you can ask for.
We’re going to pick up the action roughly midway through the final frame when the Clippers are trailing the Kings by just one point after a massive 19-3 Kings run. That run, primarily, came courtesy of Sacramento’s ability to get scorching hot from beyond the arc. The Clippers didn’t panic, though. They went to what they knew would work offensively. They ran a lot of sets involving a pick-and-roll and a lot of sets involving their two best players; Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. You might want to turn your speakers up. There's audio! Roll the footage!
This little play here is one that becomes broken because of a good job done by Darren Collison in the post against Chris Paul. A set the Clippers have ran a lot of recently is a quick Paul post-up and a pick-and-roll action off of it. They ran it quite a bit in this game, as a matter of fact, but they couldn’t generate that same look here. As the play starts, we get Paul passing off to Griffin just above the arc and then Paul cuts through to post up. J.J. Redick clears out the strongside corner so Paul can post up with no issues. Griffin probe dribbles, but can’t find a way to dump the ball into Paul. From there, it’s all free roam.
Griffin comes off of a little Paul screen that nudges two defenders, and then makes a move to the paint. Collison attempts to take a charge when Griffin spins on the left block, but it doesn’t work. Griffin comes square to the arc, finds Paul at the wing, and passes him the ball. Omri Casspi attempts to close out on Paul, but the ball is gone by the time he gets there because Paul hits Paul Pierce on the right wing and Pierce sinks a three to give the Clippers the lead again. This is basically a two-man play that turns into a freelance play that then goes back into a two-man play and finally ends with a third wheel getting the ball wide open. Result wise, everything worked out here. But there’s a whole lot more that happened.
Part of the reason for Paul being so open, which forces Casspi to close out hard on him, is that Rudy Gay gets banged up when Paul sets the screen for Griffin. This little nudge gave Paul extra time and Griffin a passing lane out of the post. It took one pass out and one pass across for the Clippers to find an open shooter. If the Kings had recovered great to Pierce, then all Pierce would have to do here is kick it once to Redick in the right corner for what should be a money shot for him. It’s not a pretty set, especially since Darren Collison did a wonderful job denying the Paul post-up opportunity. However, the Clippers adjusted and got a supremely high-efficient shot out of the sequence.
With the game knotted at 95 apiece, the Kings have the ball and bring it across midcourt with Darren Collison. They look for an early DeMarcus Cousins post-up, but that’s not there. So, Collison passes to Gay at the top of the arc and Rudy proceeds to dribble aimlessly for about eight seconds while no one else moves. Collison sets a little rub screen for Gay and Gay passes off to Casspi on the right wing with six on the shot clock after Casspi receives a nice little back screen from Marco Belinelli. Casspi tries to take Redick off the dribble along the baseline, but he gets zero separation here. DeAndre Jordan comes over to contest the shot, Casspi misses, and Jordan secures the rebound after it gets tipped a couple times.
From there, Jordan quickly spots Blake Griffin down the court and rifles a pinpoint outlet pass into Griffin’s awaiting hands. Griffin is one-on-one against Belinelli in the open court and throws a nifty little spin move at the right wing. He then proceeds to go into a possible layup attempt, but Belinelli grabs him and puts Griffin on the line for two free throws, which Griffin sank to give the Clippers the outright lead momentarily. All in all, the Clippers played this possession extremely well. Jordan denies the early Cousins post-up, Redick stays with Casspi on the drive, Jordan helps and contests before grabbing the rebound and slinging it up the court, and Griffin uses his superior athleticism to draw a foul. Intelligent defense followed by intelligent offense.
With four minutes to go and the squad trailing by one, we finally get to see J.J. Redick make a huge impact on this game with one shot. Chris Paul enters the front court being defended by Darren Collison. In the left corner, we see Redick. All you have to do is watch two things here: DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick. When Paul comes settled in the front court, Jordan sprints from his position and acts like he’s going to run up to set a screen for Paul. Instead, Jordan peels off and sets a screen on Belinelli at the right wing. It’s a crushing screen and the help defense is far too late. Paul hits Redick perfectly in stride at the top of the arc and Redick bangs home the three to give the Clippers the lead.
Several things of note happen on this play. First, Paul Pierce sets a little screen to free up DeAndre Jordan so that Jordan can get involved in the set. This screen by Pierce confuses Sacramento as there appears to be a miscommunication between Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins. This hiccup has Cousins lazily coming out of the paint way too late and in absolutely no position to contest any Redick shot. The other thing of note is that Chris Paul actually does a crafty thing by dribbling to his right and getting Collison away from any possible deflection in the passing lane or any reasonable contest on Redick’s shot. This one move gave Redick a lot more room. Lastly, Jordan’s one of the elite screen setters in the business. Allowing him to crush a guy shouldn’t happen. Sacramento should have done better to call this one out so that Belinelli had a fighting chance.
With 2:30 to go and the game tied, we see something the Clippers could go to quite a bit late in games when they spot mismatches. There’s 13 on the shot clock when the play really gets going, and we see Paul Pierce being guarded by Rajon Rondo near the right wing. So, what do the Clippers do? Well, they do what they’re supposed to do. They post Pierce up and let him go to work like he has time and time again throughout his illustrious career. Pierce gets the ball after an entry pass by Paul and goes to work with about 6 on the clock. To no one’s surprise, Pierce backs Rondo down with ease. Rondo tries to pull Pierce into a travel or foul, but Pierce keeps his balance, turns back middle, and nails his famed fadeaway jumper to give Los Angeles the lead once again.
Plays like these are fun because you can see that this is exactly why the Clippers desperately wanted Paul Pierce to begin with. While he is unable to defend at a reasonable enough level these days, he’s still able to bully smaller players in the post and hit huge shots. The Kings tried to combat Pierce with Rondo, possibly hoping Rondo knew something about Pierce’s moves. Instead, Pierce abuses Rondo physically and then hits the shot while Rondo could do nothing but flail wildly. This is why The Truth is here. For moments like this.
No one can say that Doc Rivers isn’t willing to take a risk during a close game. Never again. With the team clinging to a two point lead with 1:45 to go, Doc puts his son, Austin Rivers, into the game during a critical defensive possession. It’s a tad weird to see simply because you’d think he’d go to Lance Stephenson, who is generally regarded as a better defender by some, but he goes to his son. And, boy oh boy, does this move pay off in a huge way. Not sure Sacramento would have expected that coming into the game last night.
The play basically evolves into a DeMarcus Cousins post-up opportunity with 16 on the shot clock. That’s when he gets the ball from Marco Belinelli. The second Cousins gets the ball, he faces up against DeAndre Jordan and starts to look for a possible passing lane. Chris Paul leaves Rajon Rondo wide open in the corner to come over and double-team down on Cousins. It’s something the Clippers and Paul had done all game long. In fact, both of Rondo’s baskets came on plays where they double-teamed Cousins and Rondo filled the gap in the paint with a rim run and Cousins hit him for a layup. Here, that’s not quite what happens.
During the post-up and coming double team, Blake Griffin spots Rudy Gay attempting to make a cut to the rim of his own. Griffin crashes down to prevent the passing lane, and this forces Cousins to go to an alternate plan. Austin Rivers starts watching Cousins’ eyes and starts to cheat off of Darren Collison on the right wing. This is a huge deal since Rivers has to guard two players in one area; Collison on the right wing and Rondo in the right corner. Rivers perfectly reads Cousins and darts in front of Rondo as the pass from Cousins is made. It’s a turnover and the Clippers call a timeout to get Pierce back into the game. It was a brilliant plan that worked by Doc Rivers and one people should commend him for.
On the ensuing possession after the timeout, we get the oh so magical 1-5 pick-and-roll – at least in some fashion. Paul Pierce and Blake Griffin are in the opposite wings, and J.J. Redick is standing just below the top of the arc. The possession really kicks off with 10 on the shot clock as DeAndre Jordan runs up to set a dummy screen on Darren Collison. The Kings failed miserably at reading this as it happened. When Jordan fakes the screen and cuts, it leaves him absolutely wide open rolling to the rim. Chris Paul preoccupies two defenders – Cousins and Collison – and hits Jordan for the lob and the jam.
Three things are evident on this play. First, Sacramento comes off absolutely no one in the corner. This is the impact of Pierce on the same side as a roll on a play like this. The defender closest to him cannot cheat off of him one iota. This leaves Rondo way too late to help and the lane wide open. Secondly, Redick’s little action at the top of the arc confuses Sacramento a lot. Belinelli doesn’t even switch off of Redick here. If he does, it gives up an open three to J.J., but you’d rather have that than an alley-oop for the most efficient player in the game. And, lastly, Cousins has no idea what to do here. He comes halfway out to contest Paul’s drive, but then gives up way too much room. It allowed Paul to hit Jordan in stride. Had Cousins blitzed Paul better, perhaps this play gets strung out more. Instead, he attacked lazily and paid the price.
The death blow for Sacramento came on a play the Clippers seem to hunt for in crunch time. They try to run Chris Paul off of not one, but two DeAndre Jordan screens before resetting with 6 on the shot clock. As Paul sizes up Collison on the left wing, Jordan runs up to set the crucial screen for this play. Jordan slams into Collison as Paul goes right-to-left and Paul gets into the seam of the defense with one power dribble. Cousins is far too lazy – which is a common theme from this game – defensively on this play to do anything to stop it. All Cousins does is throw out a hand to try and deflect Paul’s dribble, but that doesn’t work. Paul springs into his sweet spot and rattles in the free-throw line jumper that helps put this game away.
During this Film Room, the only player you didn’t see score a basket down the stretch was Blake Griffin. However, he did make his impact on offense during that transition opportunity where he earned two free throws. The entire team had a hand in this win down the stretch. In years past, that wasn’t always the case. It was either Paul or Griffin who had to shoulder the load. Last night, we got to see a team use all of its weapons. This will likely be the team’s closing lineup in all the games. It forces defenses to stretch out and it creates havoc.
Sacramento tried to counter a lot of what the Clippers wanted to do by going small and forcing the Clippers to defend in space themselves. Ultimately, that didn’t work. Doc Rivers had more ammo in his gun belt than George Karl did. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Last night’s win was a good one. While there was a lot to love and some to dislike, the way the game ended was fine. We got to see how the team handled their first hurdle together and, also, how they delegated offensive looks with this closing lineup. Perhaps big things are in store for them down the stretch of games this year. There are certainly a lot more options than there were at this time last season.