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Film Room: The Difference Effort Makes

A late second half run almost brought the Clippers back against the Raptors. We take a look at how a lack of defensive idleness created the deficit and how better effort nearly erased the deficit.

Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith ostensibly accused the Clippers disparaging loss to fatigue and unfair scheduling. That's not why the Raptors beat the Clippers. Despite Dwane Casey's inability to coach, the Raptors banished the Clippers to the realm of under-500 teams. For the first time since Chris Kaman was a Clipper, the team has a losing record this late into the season.  A juxtaposed first-half versus second-half advertised the Clippers biggest issue - effort. Offensively, the Clippers didn't convert open shots. On uncontested field goals, the Clippers shot 18 of 47, for 38 percent. A shockingly low number. More frightening was the ease the of the Raptors paint attacking ability.  The Canadians put up 16 shots within a few feet of the rim in the first half, not including fouls drawn. Los Angeles shot 8. The Raptors didn't feed the ball into the post - especially with Bismack ‘Brick Hands' Biyombo starting. Instead, Raptor perimeter players repeatedly shook defenders, with or without the ball.

Somebody send an APB for Paul Pierce's team defensive concepts. Pierce's physical gifts left years ago, but mentally Pierce does not even resemble his Wizards version. Here, early in the first, the Raptors run a HORNS pick-and-roll action. Clipper fans wet dream over the same action with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, which is probably the most ran play for Los Angeles. The Raptors use it against them. While DeMar DeRozan goes right, Griffin and Jordan switch who they guard, which wasn't necessarily poor execution, as it was the easier rotation, but it creates an issue for the Clippers defense. The switched pulled Jordan from the bucket and placed Griffin as the rim protector. Jordan closes well on Scola, forcing the Argentinean to look for all-star Kyle Lowry on the opposite side. Paul denies the easy swing, but a slimmed down Lowry uses his new found aerodynamicism to blow by Paul on a backdoor cut. Griffin, instead of Jordan, rotates for the block. Biyombo receives the easy pass from Lowry for the dunk.

The Clippers rank in the bottom five in rebounding per-game, and allow over 12 offensive rebounds per-game, and this is why. After Clipper guards get beat, Griffin, Jordan or Josh Smith rotate ballside. Upon rotating, especially this close to the basket, Pierce must cover Blake's man, Biyombo. Pierce opts for watching instead of rotating. Frequently this season, the weakside defender has not rotated properly. Against Portland - and others - the guards in Lowry's place shoot instead of passing, which leads to Biyombo's position underneath the basket, unmarked. Upon a miss, its an easy rebound and put back. Opponents average over 14 second chance points-per-game against the Clippers. For this to improve, the weakside defender has to help inside better.

What absolutely terrible effort. There is no excuse for Blake here. Maybe you could say Blake should let Scola take the three. Fine. Then Blake should pack the paint, not trot like a pooch at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Blake closed out upright, not representing any semblance of an athletic, defensive stance. If Scola wanted to, he could have driven by Griffin no problem.

A few possessions later, Scola gets the ball at the same spot. Blake minorly increases his effort, but closes out poorly again. He's too vertical and then bites on a Luis Scola pumpfake. One possesion Blake deems Scola unworthy of any attention behind the lane, later he's jumping at the threat of the three. Blake Griffin, take notes on what an extended range can do for you.

After the pumpfake, Scola drives over the middle. Redick feigns help, but does not impede Scola's path. Another sign of laziness. Now, the Clippers are in the same conundrum as the first GIF. Jordan steps up and Biyombo finds a void. Pierce perfectly reenacts his first GIF performance as well, deciding to stand in purgatory instead of guarding neither the corner nor help. Jordan does not leave his feet on the first pass, opposed to Griffin last GIF, and has the slight chance of contesting Biyombo's shot. Instead, he watched.

On one play, four Clipper defenders committed minimal effort. The Clippers let the Raptors do what they want. Any spot the Raptors wanted to go, and by all means, the Clippers let them.

The Clippers changed defensive schemes over the summer. Well, as the season progressed they've slowly adapted a new style - switching on screens. Here, early in the second, the Clippers switch three times in nine seconds. Austin Rivers and Griffin switch on an early Terrence Ross-James Johnson screen. Switching provides benefits. The NBA champion Warriors switch fantastically. However, switching just to switch, like this play, does nothing. The Warriors aggressively switch. The Clippers lazily switch. Starting each possession, players guard somebody they assume to matchup well with. Aggressively switching forces ball handlers to step back or maybe throw an errant pass. In this case, the Rivers-Griffin switch provides zero benefits for the defense. Rivers allowed himself to get screened and called for the switch. It's a shortcut. Rivers, and the Clippers organization, said guards would fight over screens. In the first half, they did not.

The problem with switching is offenses can create mismatches. A better coached team possibly finds the 6' 9'' Johnson on the 6' 4" Rivers. An iso-oriented Raptors offense used switches to get better match-ups. Early in the game, a few times, DeMarre Carroll scored on Griffin following switches. The other switch in this sequence has Wesley Johnson and Luc Mbah a Moute change between guarding Patrick Patterson and DeMar DeRozan. From my knowledge, this switch isn't a terrible idea - Mbah a Moute is a strong defender. Although, the switch tickles DeRozan's iso-fancy. Right away the former USC stud sizes up the former UCLA stud. DeRozan draws a foul and shoots free throws, 2 of his 14 on the game.

Instead of letting the action come to them, the Clippers played more aggressive defense in the next half, catalyzed by the Clipper guards.

4:07 remaining in the third, the Clippers executed one of their better overall defensive sequences. Jamal fouled at the end, but a lot of good happened. Chris fights over the screen and recovers quickly. DJ ICEs Lowry well, staying close enough to discourage a shot but stays low and doesn't allow a driving angle. Both Paul and Jordan actively use their hands, deterring the pass back to Scola. Redick, being the first help option on a baseline drive, checks a cutting Carroll. On Lowry's kickout, Jamal rotates to the ball, instead of expecting somebody else to help, Crawford's closeout could be better, but does run Cory Joseph off the line. Joseph drives and Jordan steps up. Earlier, when Jordan stepped up, the baseline pass was open. This time, Redick and Paul mind the gap. Joseph passes to Lowry and Crawford bites on the pump fake, fouling in the process. Fortunately it was a non-shooting foul.

The Clippers held the Raptors to 8 points in the third quarter. The Raptors shot 4-of-22 because of vastly improved rotations and effort, giving the Clippers a chance late.

Chris Paul and Austin Rivers lead the defensive intensity. This season, through 13 games, Rivers astoundingly holds offenders to shooting 9-percent worse than their season average. Lateral quickness and technique thwarted him previously. Now, he's arguably the Clippers best defensive wing. Confidence translates to both the defensive side and offensive. 11:11 remaining in the fourth, Rivers guards Joseph just past the halfcourt line. By doing so, Rivers slows the Raptors offensive initiation. Creating chaos, Josh Smith plays the passing lane, and almost comes away with a steal. Patrick Patterson gazes upon an open lane briefly, before Austin Rivers jumps in front, while Jordan lurks in the back, causing a ball reversal. DeRozan dribbles baseline, then cut off by Wesley Johnson. DeDozan steps through but WeJo's length and a Josh Smith help tie up the ball, generating a Clippers fast break.

A few times this play, Clipper defenders were beat. Smith and Johnson both needed teammates briefly. Rather than letting helpers handle the ball, Smith and Johnson got back in the play, creating Raptor uncomfortability. Earlier in the game, Clippers faded out of plays. In the third and fourth, defenders hustled back in.

The crowds alive! Spending most of their Sunday as quiet as a church congregation during sermon, the fans finally have reason to cheer. Down 6 after being down as much as 29, momentum's on the Clippers side. Austin Rivers denies being screened, fights back into Lowry's body, forcing a challenging shot.

In a symbolistic representation of the Clippers season, Rivers doesn't finish the play. He watches the shot and doesn't box out Lowry. Lowry misses the second chance shot.

The symbolic representation didn't end with the Rivers missed box out. No. It continued to the missed Smith three. The Clippers fortuitously catch a break with both Lowry missed, but shoot themselves in the foot with terrible shot selection. This might be the quintessential play of the 6-7 Clippers season. Spoiler, the Raptors went on a 10-2 after the game got within 6 points.

A desolate Clippers team struggles to piece together strong 48-minute performances. The complete answer for team success might not exist in the Raptors game, but the game at least provided clues for success going forward, and it starts with effort.