It becomes inherently tough to make assumptions based on just 11 games of sample size, but one of the things that has become more and more evident during the beginning of the season is that Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce absolutely cannot play together. It has nothing to do with offense and everything to do with defense. Well, the offense isn’t good, but the defense has been a tire fire of the highest order. Last night was not an aberration, but rather more of the same old thing we’ve seen time and time again out of that pairing defensively.
Everyone knows that the games between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are going to be tough, physical, and entertaining. The Warriors feature an electric offense, as do the Clippers. That means that a lot of what happens in these games comes down to defense and the ability to stop the opponent from being able to get easy shots. When Crawford and Pierce are on the court, the opposition is just getting too many easy shots.
First, we need to talk about how statistically bad they are before showing the visual evidence. The Crawford-Pierce tandem has now played 191 minutes together. They’re the 6th most played duo on the entire roster. In their 191 minutes together, the team has a Defensive Rating of 110.2 and a -8.5 Net Rating. Last night alone, the team had a 141.2 Defensive Rating when they played together. For some reason, Doc Rivers elected to start both of them last night. To no one’s surprise, it backfired in his face as Golden State routinely attacked them defensively. Now, let’s get to the film.
As you can see, we are only a minute into the game before Golden State goes right towards a favorable matchup. Stephen Curry has the ball on the right wing, but he passes off to Andrew Bogut with 17 on the shot clock. Curry then proceeds to run the baseline after receiving two screens. The second one is the one that is designed to get Curry wide open. It’s set by Klay Thompson and the Clippers elect to play this by switching at the point of the screen. Therefore, Chris Paul now switches onto Thompson and Jamal Crawford is now the primary defender on Curry. From there, Curry gets the ball from Draymond Green on the left wing and awaits a pick. Bogut runs up to set the pick, and you can actually hear DeAndre Jordan yelling out “ice, ICE, ICE!!!” to Crawford. The problem here is that Crawford doesn’t ICE the screen at all; rather, he just runs into it and dies on it. Curry gets a wide open look from three that clangs out.
The defensive gameplan here is pretty interesting, and it’s one that teams have been doing to Golden State for a while. The Warriors love to run Curry into Thompson screens so that they can match Curry up against a weaker perimeter defender. That’s what happens here. After that, the weaker defender just plays the screen like a rookie. Even with Jordan clamoring for Crawford to ICE the screen, Crawford decides to just get hung up on it. The Clippers got extremely lucky that the best shooter on the planet didn’t make this shot. This is what weak defenders allow to happen.
With the Clippers starting to take control of this game, Golden State needed a big shot to keep them somewhat afloat. Curry already had two fouls, and the other players needed to show up. This possession shows what happens when there’s zero communication between defenders. It starts with Curry dribbling into the front court and probing into the paint before giving the ball off to Green at the top of the arc. From there, all that happens is that Curry runs to the right corner and Thompson moves up from the right corner to the right wing. This causes confusion, and Crawford initially jumps towards Curry on a switch rather than sticking with Thompson. That means that Klay is left open. Naturally, Thompson knocks down the three.
This is all about miscommunication. And this could be part of the reason the team struggles defensively with Crawford on the floor. Blake Griffin clearly has Curry here, and Crawford is stuck on Thompson. Yet, for some reason, Crawford goes with Curry instead of sticking with Thompson. You never get caught losing your man just one pass away. It’s an amateur play. It’s hard to say who this one is on, but Griffin looks as if he was supposed to be sticking with Curry the whole way. He sort of grabs onto Thompson as he runs back to Curry, but that could just be him trying to keep Klay occupied while Jamal recovered. Either way, this is a breakdown and something that wasn’t happening through the first several games.
A little less than a minute later, we get to see the Flying Death Machine that is the Golden State transition game. Keep in mind, this is off of a made basket. It took the Warriors exactly 5 seconds to score from the time the ball was inbounded until the time the ball went through the net. All that happens here is that Draymond Green gets the inbounds pass at halfcourt and runs to the paint. DeAndre Jordan is right there with him and deters any possible layup attempt. Green jumps without any place to go, yet he still finds Klay Thompson slicing in from the three-point line. Klay gathers with his right hand before finishing with a layup.
This one is all on Jamal Crawford. There’s zero reason for Crawford to get beaten on this play, and it all stems from the fact that Crawford got caught watching the ball rather than his own man. That is a no-no against the Golden State Warriors. Half-hearted jogs back on defense are not the way to get things done against the Warriors, that’s for certain. Crawford lost track of Thompson long before Draymond had even made his way into the paint. There’s zero excuse for this happening. None whatsoever.
With the Clippers nursing a 9-point lead, the Warriors run a set that is one of their favorites. This is a motion and screen set designed to get a guard open in the paint without a big down there. All you have to do on this play is watch the Crawford-Thompson matchup. It starts out with Thompson cutting down to the left corner. After Marreese Speights cuts through the paint, the Warriors begin their weakside action. Speights sets a dummy screen for Thompson, and Thompson reads Crawford perfectly. Crawford thinks Thompson is cutting outside when, rather, Thompson really wants to get to the rim. Thompson cuts to the basket, Andrew Bogut hits him perfectly with a pass, and Paul Pierce fouls Thompson in an attempt to prevent the basket.
Two very important things happen on this play. First off, Jamal Crawford assumes that all Klay Thompson wants to do is get over the top of a screen so he can fire off a three-point attempt. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Secondly, Paul Pierce ventures too far out of the paint here. The Warriors set ends up having Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes in nearly the same spot. When Pierce saw Barnes start curling towards where Chris Paul was, Pierce should have slowed up and stayed back to deny a backdoor pass. And Pierce’s reaction time to the pass being made was pretty feeble. This was a poor job by both guys.
This is an instance of where Pierce’s old age is no match for a young player’s athleticism and energy. The Warriors run a few dribble handoffs designed to get the defense moving and out of position. The last one is a Barnes-to-Thompson handoff that forces a switch between Austin Rivers and Paul Pierce. Rivers, who was initially on Thompson, now moved over to guard Barnes. This leaves Pierce on Thompson. The second Thompson recognizes that Pierce is on him, he opts to cut down the lane with a power left-handed dribble. Thompson gets to the rim and throws up a layup attempt before ultimately getting fouled by Pierce.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, this is a situation where Pierce’s lack of footwork and footspeed comes back to haunt them. Another culprit on this play is that DeAndre Jordan gets sucked up too much towards Andrew Bogut because he thinks Thompson is going to keep curling and come around a Bogut screen. Instead, Thompson reads the situation in a split second and takes his man off the dribble. Pierce cannot hang with Thompson, fouls him, and the Clippers are letting a dangerous man get easy points over and over again.
Lastly, we have a play from just beyond the midway point of the second quarter. The Clippers are up by 21 points and seemingly in control of this game. Stephen Curry has the ball on the right wing, and receives a screen from Andrew Bogut that is designed to get Curry into a scoring zone. Paul gets hung up on the Bogut screen, but DeAndre Jordan is somewhat close enough to pressure Curry into continuing to dribble rather than pulling up – especially since Curry doesn’t pull up going to his left as much as he does going to his right. Curry probes into the paint, but Jordan stays right on his hip. The issue is that Paul Pierce ventures too far away from Harrison Barnes here. Curry spots the space, passes to Barnes, and Barnes knocks down the baseline jumper.
For such a savvy veteran, Pierce got caught out of position too many times against the Golden State Warriors. It’s one thing to be a bad defender just because it’s tough for you in one-on-one situations, but it’s an entirely different thing to be a bad team defender because you completely forget spacing fundamentals and how your opponent likes to play. Pierce did it over and over in this game. Jamal Crawford was just bad in man defense, but Pierce failed in team defense. Combined, they were the worst thing that could have happened to the team in a game that was right there for the taking.
All this footage is from the first half, but there were plenty of instances in the second half where the defense broke down. We saw it in the fourth quarter, but a lot of that was a byproduct of Golden State creating 4-on-3 situations after Curry passed out of a trap. Then again, Crawford and Pierce were on the floor for the entire fourth quarter as that happened. Had better defenders played more minutes, perhaps this loss doesn’t happen. As it were, Doc trusted two subpar defenders with far too many minutes and hoped he wouldn’t get burned. He was wrong.