The Bulls spotlighted an underlying Clipper issue. It is not a new issue, and no, it is not the bench. The Clippers settle offensively. They rank 27th in the league in points scored in the paint. Last year, the Clippers ranked 27th. The issue proliferates during crunch time. Last season the Clippers were dead last in points-in-the-paint with 5 minutes left during a 5-point game, scoring an average 2.1 points in such situations. This year, they score at the exact same rate. A team with low-post guru Blake Griffin should not score this poorly around the basket, especially coupled with DeAndre Jordan, who scores exclusively in the paint. Against Chicago, the Clippers scored less than half their season average in the paint, getting 18 points on 9 of 24 shooting. In a snooze fest of a game, lets see how the LA offense played right into the Bulls strategy.
Not an unusual set for the Clippers on their second possession of the game. Jordan sets a down-screen for Redick, who curls and swings the ball back to Chris Paul for a pick-and-roll with Griffin.
The Bulls, without defensive wizard Tom Thibodeau as head coach, unpredictably have improved on defense compared to last year. Chicago leads the league in field-goal percentage allowed and rank third in defensive ratings. Now, I don't watch enough Bulls games to notice adjustments, but the schematics appear the same on pick-and-rolls. Thib's defense schemes stands as the archetype for the league, still. The guard fights over the screen while the big sits back, conceding the midrange jumper. The Clippers even followed suit this season.
Back to the GIF, Paul drops the pass to Griffin for the uncontested midrange shot. Not a bad look.
Two minutes later, more Redick screen action. Taj Gibson guards Griffin, again, and is more mindful of protecting the paint and knowing where Redick is than a Griffin midrange shot. Griffin recognizes the space, steps out and Paul delivers a crisp pass for another simple, uncontested jumpshot for Griffin.
For the Clipper organization, seeing Griffin make midrange shots is reassuring, but the shots become a crutch for the Clipper offense. Not just Griffin's shot, either. Paul and Jamal Crawford shoot midrange shots earlier in possessions. Neither possession in the two GIFs do the Clippers get the ball in the paint. There's no aspiration for more, foreshadowing the Clippers ineffectiveness on offense.
Next possession, the Clippers run their HORNS set, with a high screen for Paul, Jordan running the rim and Griffin popping at the midrange. Paul drives right and dishes it back to Griffin, who's spotting up about 22 feet from the hoop.
Again, the ball never goes in the paint. Griffin shoots a shot the Bulls willingly allow the entire game. The shots themselves are not bad looks, but, if they are shots that are accessible whenever, shouldn't the Clippers be looking for more? Blake Griffin and co. never swung the ball side to side, never attacked the gaps or forced the issue.
Blake shoots 75-percent in the paint, but, despite being such a prolific scorer in the paint, Blake isn't even top-50 in touches in the paint per game. In the modern era, with intricate defensive strategies, its difficult to feed the ball into the post compared to years past. Still, that's not a reasonable excuse and a copout for not getting Blake the ball closer to the basket. There's a lack of aggressiveness in the Clippers offense.
Oh, the abomination referred to as the second quarter was disgusting to watch. Here's the opening shot by a Crawford, a transition three. A Doc Rivers interview concluded right before the shot was launched, mentioning how he wants the Clippers to speed the game up. Fine, maybe some rationalizations say the Crawford transition three isn't a bad shot.
Following possession, the Clippers run a little weave action to feign the Loop set ran for Austin Rivers. Doc's Son catches the ball on the wing while Josh Smith can't decide to set a screen or not. Rivers drives, forcing up an awkward, contested floater. He gets his own rebound and Steve Nash dribbles under the basket.
Look how open the paint is for a cutter. Three defenders collapse around Rivers and not a single Clippers slips into the vacant area. Its as if the Clippers were allergic to the paint this game. Instead, the Bulls corral Rivers and Johnson easily into the corner. Pierce gets the ball and shoots a contested midrange, pull-up shot.
In the second quarter, the Clippers shot 3 of 23. 39.1-percent of the Clippers shots took place in the 18-23 foot range, an absurd number. For the season, Los Angeles hoists 25.1-percent of their shots from the 18-23-foot region, also known as Daryl Morey's hell. Only the Timberwolves shoot a higher percentage of shots from this region. These two teams clearly rank one and two. This isn't a specific stat I could easily access, so I added up each teams shot chart. The Pacers were third with about 22-percent of shots from this area, while most of the league hovers around the 15-percent mark. A shot ostracized by basically the entire league has become a staple in the Clippers offense.
Clips Nation's Larson Ishii should have an article coming out soon about this dilemma, but the Clippers offense relies on an inefficient shot to be efficient. The third quarter wasn't any better. As a team, 47.6-percent of the teams shots came from Morey's Hell, shooting 3 for 10 during the period.
The Clippers comeback happened coincidentally when they avoided the midrange shot - not to say the Clippers going forward should rely on Josh Smith prayers to bring them back in the game - but the caliber of the shots from the first three quarters to the fourth were the same. However, how the Clippers produced the shots were different - they attacked the paint!
Josh Smith makes plays. Here, upon driving in the paint, three Bulls defenders help to cover Smith. If you listen closely, you can actually hear Crawford whisper, "what is this thing called where nobody is near me on the perimeter?" It is called spacing. Smith created the holes in the defense by getting in the middle. One extra pass from Crawford leads to an open three for Johnson.
Johnson misses an open shot, but Rivers gets the rebound and gets the ball back to Lance Stephenson. Then Lance attacks the paint, sucking in Rivers defender for the help. Born Ready passes it to Rivers for the corner three.
Two possessions later, the Clippers relentlessly probe the middle. Only once does the ball enter the paint this series, but each drive during the weave action gauges driving down the heart of the defense. Chicago does a great job helping, but Noah eventually gets sucked in on a Lance drive, who dishes it Smith for the three.
The Clippers lost ground to the Bulls by being complacent and taking what the defense gave them. Los Angeles played simple. The simplicity created a predictable, inefficient offense. The offense became okay, and the team didn't try to be anything more as a unit until the fourth quarter. The first three quarters the Clippers relied on shot making, at least in the fourth quarter they attempted to create defensive miscues. By forcing the issue just a bit more in the final period, the Clippers got cleaner looks. Perhaps Josh Smith making two threes in a crucial stretch is lucky. Watching the game, it appears the Clippers created their own luck as team. If they want group success, they're going to need to continue creating luck, and it starts with attacking the paint.