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Preseason Game #2: Film Room

It wasn't pretty, but we need to look at the tape to see if there were any glimmers of hope going forward. Believe it or not, there was some semblance of that.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a glorious Monday to look at film, isn’t it? This is better than going to the movies. Here you don’t have to sit around other people and get annoyed when one of them glances at their cellphone, which you invariably see out of the corner of your eye because you have great peripheral vision, thus driving you absolutely insane. Be considerate, people! Some people are trying to watch Fantastic Four in peace, ya know? Anyways, you don’t even have to get bothered by someone resting their feet on the back of your chair or spilling their drink underneath your feet. This is a safe place. This is a wonderful place. This is the Film Room! So grab your cup of coffee, water, or what-have-you. Sit back – but, for the love of everything, don’t kick the desk/chair/person in front of you! – and relax.

Let’s get this party started with a nice play from one of the three best players, as well as a roleplayer, on the Los Angeles Clippers. This just illustrates and highlights the impact a player can have on the court by just being aware of what’s going on and being smarter than everyone else for that one split second in time. Basketball is a game of smarts just as much as it is a game of physical ability. On this particular play two minutes into the game, we see smarts and physical ability make their appearance.

The possession by the Toronto Raptors starts after DeAndre Jordan missed two free throws. DeMar DeRozan brings the ball up the court and they try to space out the floor, but they do it in a really awkward way. For instance, DeMarre Carroll goes to the strongside corner and Kyle Lowry just spots up at the top of the arc. Patrick Patterson is at the weakside elbow and sort of just stands there without moving. The play is to dump the ball into Jonas Valanciunas at the strongside elbow area and run Carroll off of a DeRozan pindown screen. From here, the ball is supposed to go to Carroll on a UCLA cut and he’ll try to finish. However, Wesley Johnson plays this extremely well.

First, when Johnson spots DeRozan start to walk towards him in the corner to set the screen, Johnson gets close to the body of Carroll in order to fight against the screen better. DeRozan sets the screen and Johnson slips through it with one quick move which allows him to not get beat by Carroll to the rim. This forces Valanciunas to hold onto the ball one beat longer than Toronto wanted. When Jonas turns his head, DeAndre Jordan notices this and strips the ball clean with his right hand. Then, in an incredible display of athleticism, splits between Valanciunas and Lowry to track down the ball near halfcourt. He then takes one single dribble and gathers the ball from just beyond the three-point line to dunk. He’s pretty freakish.

Either way, this play is the epitome of sound defensive principles and poor spacing. No idea why Toronto was spread out this way. At the least, Patterson should have been spaced more to the wing area instead of the right elbow area. When Carroll does his UCLA cut, Griffin even starts to cheat down to help on the drive. But give credit to Johnson and Jordan here. They played this exceptionally well. Defense is the one thing Johnson has to bring on a consistent basis and this play is a good start for him. It’s also a hell of a start for Jordan. Also, don’t overlook Jordan motioning (and vocalizing) to the team to push up the floor defensively in order to upset Toronto’s rhythm a little more. While this play happens only two minutes into the game, it’s a nice view into what the team could do defensively this year when they’re all in sync.

This next play comes several minutes later and showcases the one thing the Clippers do better than anyone else in the NBA; the pick-and-roll. Blake Griffin gets the ball and brings it up the court in a semi-transition opportunity, but ultimately settles the ball down when he realizes that the Raptors have recovered pretty nicely. However, due to a transitional cross-match, we see DeMar DeRozan wind up on Chris Paul here. As good of an athlete as DeRozan is, he’s not exactly the kind of defender who will give Paul any sort of trouble whatsoever. Griffin passes to Paul and immediately jumps into a screen. Paul goes with a nifty behind-the-back crossover to lose DeRozan around the Griffin pick and then curls around a secondary pick from DeAndre Jordan.

Griffin slips the screen and ends up just above the free-throw line. Paul throws a beauty of a bounce pass into Griffin’s shooting pocket and Griffin knocks down the jumper before Jonas Valanciunas can react to contest it better. The interesting thing here is that Kyle Lowry could have cheated up to try and make a play on the bounce pass, but he was too afraid of leaving J.J. Redick wide open in the corner. Notice how well Redick spaces to the corner as the play unfolds and notice how Lowry keeps turning his head to see where Redick is throughout the whole thing. That’s the power of Redick. It’s a beauty of a play and one the Clippers will use a lot this year with Griffin’s improved shooting. One last note: kudos to Wesley Johnson for making a baseline cut as Paul made the pass to Griffin. He gets a step on Carroll and could have been an option for Griffin to pass to if Valanciunas closed out better.

A minute later, Chris Paul is bringing the ball up the court and the Clippers jump into a classic set for them. DeMarre Carroll actually does a smart thing here and pushes Jonas Valanciunas out of the way so that Carroll can take Paul and Valanciunas can get matched up against a streaking-down-the-court DeAndre Jordan. At the start of this set, Wesley Johnson and J.J. Redick are in opposite corners; Johnson on the strongside and Redick on the weakside. Paul initiates the offense by simply throwing an entry pass into Jordan after Jordan cuts through to post-up. The second the ball touches Jordan’s hands, Johnson slices through along the baseline and clears out the corner so that the Raptors can’t double-team Jordan and force a turnover. This removes a defender.

From there, Blake Griffin is fed the ball by Jordan just below the top of the arc and we get to see the team’s patent 4-5 pick-and-roll. Johnson is now in the weakside corner, where Redick started out the possession, and Redick is now hovering over the left wing in case there’s a shot opportunity. Griffin starts to probe dribble against Patrick Patterson before Jordan sets a simple slip screen. All Jordan does is walk up, act like he’s going to set a screen, and then simply cuts through before making contact. This catches the defense off-guard and Griffin throws a perfect lob pass right to Jordan before either big man (or DeMar DeRozan) can react to it. This is the power of having a ball-handling power forward that can pass and improved his jumper. The defense has to cheat up onto him and Jordan simply plays off of that.

We all know the Clippers love to run the pick-and-roll. It’s the crux of their entire offense. The thing that makes it so deadly, besides who sets the screen, is that the ball-handler is usually someone who is deadly from either range or going downhill. And, even then, both are still excellent passers and decision makers. That’s what makes everything flow perfectly. Jordan posts up, passes to Griffin, runs to set a screen, slips it, and Griffin fires a perfect pass. Don’t discredit the movement by Johnson and the others, though. It spaced the floor well enough to throw Toronto off their game. Just a perfect play.

We jump way ahead to midway through the second quarter for this play. Chris Paul dribbles into the frontcourt and DeAndre Jordan runs up to set a simple screen on Cory Joseph. This forces Jonas Valanciunas to vacate the paint and stop Paul’s dribble-drive. Paul turns the corner and starts to dribble towards the baseline. Joseph and Valanciunas push Paul along the baseline, but they don’t cut off any passing lane. On the weakside of this play, Wesley Johnson starts in the corner and slowly inches up to the wing. On the strongside of this play, J.J. Redick starts in the corner and cuts through the baseline to clear out a defender and create room for Paul to dribble.

Because of all the activity and movement off the ball, the Raptors get pretty stretched out here. The pick-and-roll and Paul’s dribbling also lures DeMarre Carroll from the weakside corner all the way into the paint and along the baseline. When Paul notices Carroll trying to cut him off and force him out of bounds, Paul rifles a bounce pass to a cutting Johnson. From there, Wesley gather dribbles and finishes through contact from Valanciunas for the hoop and the harm. This is a smart play by Johnson. He moved well without the ball, thanks in large part to Redick pointing it out to him, and he finished the tough attempt. This all starts with a pick-and-roll and finishes with a cutting wing player when the defense lulls to sleep. Progress.

After Wesley Johnson’s missed free throw, the Raptors dribble into the frontcourt with Cory Joseph as the main ball-handler. He quickly passes off to Patrick Patterson who simply quick passes to DeMarre Carroll. It only gets far more interesting from there, though. Joseph tries to beat Chris Paul backdoor, but ultimately realizes he wasn’t going to be able to (thanks to Blake Griffin) and cuts back to receive the ball from Patterson after Carroll passed back to him. Jonas Valanciunas then runs up to receive the ball at the left elbow. Joseph passes to Valanciunas and then tries to, once again, curl around Patterson and find a backdoor lane. It’s not there. The ball then finds its way to Carroll on the wing.

This is sort of an unfair thing for Carroll. He’s given the ball with 7 seconds on the shot clock and is asked to create for himself. This is something he rarely had to do with the Atlanta Hawks and is one of the downsides to leaving that system – there won’t be as much spacing and movement. Johnson gets into the body of Carroll and ices any possible pick being set by Valanciunas. Johnson knows he has DeAndre Jordan helping him in the middle of the floor and forces Carroll towards the help. What happens after that is Carroll dribbles cautiously towards the rim and attempts a fadeaway baseline jumper that Johnson blocks and Jordan rebounds. It’s great team defense all-around, but even better individual defense by Johnson and Jordan. Once again, defense is something that Johnson can excel at in this system if he commits himself.

A couple minutes later, the Clippers bring the ball into the frontcourt and we get to see the symbiotic "best friends forever" play by J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan. Redick, who you can’t see at the beginning of this because the camera pans out two seconds too late, is standing in the nearside corner. He simply runs the baseline and gets a great pindown screen from Jordan that stonewalls DeMarre Carroll right in his tracks. After Carroll runs into Jordan, Redick takes one quick dribble and shuffles to his right to rise and fire from three-point land. As Redick goes to shoot, Carroll tries to get over the screen, but runs into Jordan’s backside and falls to the ground. Redick splashes the shot and the Clippers draw a little closer. Redick and Jordan work extremely well together. This play is something the team runs quite a bit to get Redick involved and doesn’t work without Jordan’s expert screening.

The one way to possibly stop this from happening, as far as a defense is concerned, is to have the big man – Jonas Valanciunas in this instance – step up and hedge to contest anything Redick tries to do. The issue with that, though, is it creates a lane for Jordan to rim run. With Redick’s ability to attack closeouts off the dribble, and Jordan’s athleticism, it still creates an issue for defenses. If the big man contests, but is able to stay fundamentally sound, there is a chance to disrupt this set; albeit not an overly great one.

Shortly after that, we see the improvements that DeAndre Jordan has made defensively and how much he can impact one single possession by himself. Toronto has Kyle Lowry bring the ball upcourt and he passes off to Patrick Patterson. As the ball makes its way to Patterson, DeMar DeRozan quickly tries to beat J.J. Redick with a cut around the edge. He never gains any semblance of separation and the pass from Patterson is also off the mark. DeRozan is thrown into the corner, gathers the ball, and hits a slicing Jonas Valanciunas just below the free throw line. As Valanciunas goes to receive the ball, Chris Paul pinches down to help so that Jordan can recover. This causes Valanciunas to hesitate long enough to allow Jordan to alter the play.

And this, right here, is where Jordan showcases his new awareness and patience. Valanciunas shows Jordan a pump fake, turns to post, pivots, pump fakes again, and then tries to finish with his left hand. Throughout this entire process, Jordan stays rooted to the ground. At one point, it looks like Jordan was about to take the bait, but he ultimately did not and just stayed in perfect position. As Valanciunas throws the left-handed shot up, Jordan swats it off the backboard and Jonas regathers it. He then kicks it out to Patterson, who is met by both Paul and Blake Griffin. Patterson attempts to dribble between them, but he’s called for a travel and the Clippers force Toronto into a turnover. The DeAndre Jordan of two years ago definitely jumps at one of these fakes. Even the Jordan of last year would have most likely bit on one of them. Not this Jordan, though. If this is the Jordan the Clippers are getting, then look out.

After the Clippers threw the ball out of bounds with 2.4 seconds left in the first half, Toronto is all set to inbound in the frontcourt. DeMarre Carroll is in the inbounder, Pablo Prigioni is the man trying to deny, and the other host of characters are Blake Griffin, Patrick Patterson, DeAndre Jordan, Jonas Valanciunas, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Lance Stephenson. The ball gets given to Carroll and the Raptors’ motion begins. Lowry runs off of a Valanciunas pick, but gets zero spacing against Paul. That’s the first read. Patterson and DeRozan run a pick play for each other to gain separation, but they get zero. Then, Valanciunas sets a second screen for DeRozan that slams into Stephenson and gives DeRozan space. This is the second read and the one Carroll makes the pass on.

When the ball gets thrown into court, Jordan races to the corner that the ball is going and is there to effectively contest DeRozan’s turnaround baseline jumper to beat the buzzer. DeRozan tries to put a lot more arc on it than he would have under normal circumstances, but it doesn’t matter because Jordan still gets a fingertip on it and blocks the shot. That’s why the shot comes up a tad short and a mini-tip battle happens between Valanciunas and Griffin. While the block is the highlight of this play, the other notable moments are Paul not giving Lowry any room to breathe and Jordan shutting this play down. They’re the team’s two top defenders and showed why here.

Early in the third quarter, the Clippers attempt to make a dent in Toronto’s impending double-digit lead. So, what do they do? Well, they run something to generate a high-quality look for a great shooter. Chris Paul dribbles over the halfcourt line, passes to J.J. Redick who dribbles into the corner after a Blake Griffin screen, and then Redick passes to Griffin at the wing area of the three-point line. Griffin passes back to Paul and Redick runs from the far corner to the near corner so that they can run something else. Wesley Johnson clears out the nearside corner by cutting through the free-throw line area. When this happens, Redick is hot on his heels and comes off of a DeAndre Jordan screen. Paul passes to Redick, but Redick doesn’t have the necessary space to shoot.

Redick then passes back to Paul, who has gained a little distance from Kyle Lowry because Lowry cheated to help onto Redick, and Paul jumps into a quick pick-and-roll with Griffin. Paul pocket passes to Griffin at the free-throw line and Redick flares to the nearside corner to give Griffin a passing lane should he need it. DeMar DeRozan helps out on Griffin and this forces Blake to hit Redick in the corner for a massively wide open three. Redick misses the shot, but that’s of zero consequence here. The big takeaway in preseason games is process and this play was great process. The main play was stopped, the team switched it up to run a secondary play that got stopped, then ran into a pick-and-roll that ended in a wide open corner three for a guy who shot 45.8 percent on uncontested threes last season. These possessions are ones you can live with and love.

A possession later, Blake Griffin brings the ball up the court and passes to J.J. Redick as Redick comes off of a Chris Paul screen. This is a designed play that you’re about to watch. Redick comes off the screen from Paul, another one from Griffin, doesn’t have a suitable shot he likes, and passes back to Paul at the wing. If you look carefully, Redick was not really interested in shooting from the outset. As he’s running with the ball, he has his head kinked to the left as if to look for a passing lane. He has one and that’s where he goes. Shortly before that, though, Griffin set the screen for Redick and then darted into the paint to get deep seal position. This is the play design. Paul throws the pass into Griffin the second he receives it from Redick and Griffin makes a quick turn towards his left shoulder to finish the basket and draw the foul.

This is something the Clippers are probably working on a lot. It’s one of the ways to get Griffin involved more down in the post without him taking a beating. They have him set a screen, get a seal, and just go right away before the defender can get settled in. It’s smart. Griffin’s post game is pretty underrated and it says a lot about the team that they’re working on trying to feed him there more. They’re doing it in a smarter way rather than having him just pound the ball into the deck for five seconds trying to get position. No one questions whether or not the starters will have a great offense, though. We all know they will. This is just one example of how to maximize the talent level of all the players even more.

Not everything was rosy, though. Here, we see DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Johnson, and J.J. Redick subbed out in favor of Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford, and Lance Stephenson. That creates some differences in spacing and screening. As Chris Paul looks to initiate the offense, Stephenson sets a baseline screen for Crawford that gives him space against Terrence Ross. Paul hits Crawford in the far corner and Crawford looks as if he’s going to shoot the ball. Instead, Crawford rises up and then just throws a pass right into the middle of the paint where only Toronto players are standing. There seems to be a major miscommunication between Griffin and Crawford here, but it’s hard to say what it is.

On the initial action, it seems like Griffin could have set a better screen for Crawford against Ross. However, it also looks like it’s a designed slip screen to get Griffin the ball right on the strongside block so that he can go up quickly. Yet, that obviously doesn’t even happen here. Crawford just fires a pass way too high for anyone and it makes no sense. Maybe the ball slipped out of his hands. Maybe it was just a simple gaffe and Griffin was supposed to go for a lob. Either way, this is a bad turnover in a game that was slowly getting out of hand. It’s made worse because Paul and Griffin are on the court here and the turnover still happened. This is something the team will have to clean up going forward.

End of quarter possessions are always fun to look at because the vast majority of them are just one-on-one play between a crafty ball-handler and a defender unwillingly to give an inch. On this one, we see Lance Stephenson being defended by Terrence Ross. As the shot clock hits around the 8 second mark, Josh Smith darts up to set a screen. Instead of setting the screen, though, Smith keeps curling towards the top of the arc. This is actually a very wise thing. It fakes Luis Scola out and Scola is caught out of position. This allows Stephenson to hit Smith with a perfect pass. Smith has to hesitate because of Ross’ recovery and Bruno Caboclo’s help, though.

Despite that, Smith still gets a super quality look here. When Caboclo has to recover to the strongside corner because he left Austin Rivers open, it takes one key defender away. When Ross misplays this and thinks he has to help back towards Stephenson, it takes the final defender away. This leaves Smith free to fire from three and he knocks it down. These are the kind of shots that Smith should be taking. These are low pressure shots. If he doesn’t hit them then there’s no big deal. It’s late in the shot clock, he did his job, and he was left open from an efficient area on the court. As long as he’s taking these, there’s no problem. This was also a real nice job done by Stephenson. He saw the extra help come, passed to the open man, and made the right play. Job well done by all.

The final play in this session is a nice one. Austin Rivers is being defended by Bruno Caboclo as Rivers brings the ball up the court. Rivers passes to Cole Aldrich on the far wing and Rivers then makes a cut off of a Jamal Crawford screen. Aldrich spots the cut quickly and hits Rivers perfectly in stride. Rivers gather dribbles and two-hand dunks the ball before Luis Scola or Terrence Ross can come over to help. Spacing here is also really, really interesting. Cory Joseph is late to react because he hugs Crawford on the screen, Scola can’t risk leaving Josh Smith open in the far corner because that’s the side of the floor the ball was currently on, and Ross is too close to Lance Stephenson.

Ideally, for Toronto, you’d like to see Ross help earlier because Stephenson isn’t really a major factor from beyond the arc. He hasn’t even proven he can hit a shot at a respectable rate right now. Ross’ lack of awareness here comes back to bite Toronto. Had he pinched down towards the paint when the ball was fed into Aldrich, this cut and play could have been prevented entirely. Instead, the Clippers get two points out of this and are able to showcase Aldrich’s passing ability. This is a well-designed play that was executed well by the bench players. These are few and far between so maybe this is a moment of clarity for them amidst the haze of uncertainty.