Despite not trailing over the final 41 or so minutes, the Los Angeles Clippers weren’t without incident during Saturday’s win against the Brooklyn Nets. They built a sizeable lead, watched it quickly deplete, and then had to gut out a victory in the final couple of minutes. It wasn’t pretty. During a little over four minutes, the Nets cut an 18-point deficit down to just 2 by hitting some shots they were missing earlier, but also by getting much more favorable matchups in other areas. This edition of the Film Room will look at that run, and see what, if anything, led to the lead decreasing.
In the 24-8 run that they gave up, the Clippers still shot 3-of-6 from the field. It wasn’t as if their offensive production went ice cold or anything like that. The Clippers still were able to hit some shots, but Brooklyn also did a smart thing by taking Los Angeles out of their offensive rhythm by intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan. In that sequence, Jordan went just 1-of-4 from the line. The Nets came down the court time and time again after Clippers possessions, and they mostly got fantastic shots or quality mismatches. Let’s take a look at Brooklyn’s scoring spurt.
This possession is the second one in Brooklyn’s run. The first possession ended in Jarrett Jack free throws. This is the first one that sees the Nets put the ball through, well, the net. Jack and Andrea Bargnani run a simple pick-and-pop action at the top that’s designed to get Bargnani or Jack free for a jumper. Neither happens. However, Jack spots Thaddeus Young posted up against Paul Pierce on the right block. Jack passes to Young, and Young proceeds to drop in a little left-handed post hook that gets Brooklyn off and rolling. There’s nothing Pierce can even do here. It’s a tough-ish shot, but Young is crafty.
The Clippers shut down this possession decently early on, but the movement by Young off the ball to give Jack a lane to pass the ball is pretty important. It allowed the Nets to get a third option look at the basket. That third option was a post-up possession for a player averaging 1.05 points per possession and 55.6 percent shooting on post-ups. Any time you can dump the ball to someone like that, it’s a good result. Young uses his length advantage to get his shot off against Pierce, and the Nets cut into the deficit just a little more.
Next time down the court, the Nets run the pick-and-pop action again. However, this time the Nets get the shot they really want. Bargnani runs a slip screen, and he pops at about 20 feet. Austin Rivers rides the hip of Jarrett Jack over the top of the screen, and DeAndre Jordan shuffles over to stop any paint penetration. Unfortunately, Jack has a clear passing lane back to Bargnani after a reverse pivot, and Bargnani fires an absolutely wide open mid-range jumper that splashes home. This is where the new pick-and-roll coverage by the Clippers comes back to haunt them, and the next play also will show it.
On the ensuing possession, the Nets once again run the pick-and-pop. Jack starts on the right wing, and then he crosses over back to the left wing to get another slip screen from Bargnani. Rivers recovers over the top of the screen, Jordan is set to defend the drive, and Jack pocket passes back to Bargnani just below the arc for another wide open mid-range jumper. And, yet again, Bargnani sinks it. The new pick-and-roll coverage takes a beating two plays in a row.
The issue here for the Clippers is that Jordan doesn’t respect the big man that’s popping out. The same thing happened over and over again in the prior game against the Chicago Bulls, but it’s also something that’s happened all season long. The Clippers want the big man to stay in the paint rather than with the popping big. Maybe that’d have been an adequate system five years ago, but now it’s asking for trouble. Jordan should have helped and recovered rather than just helping and staying. Blake Griffin was on the back line to defend the Jack drive, and that’s where communication should have happened. Jordan needs to step out on the shooter. This is something that has plagued the team all season.
With the Clippers lead down to 14, the Nets come down to work another pick-and-pop action between Jack and Bargnani. As Bargnani flares on the slip screen, Rivers switches onto him to negate the open jumper. This leads to Jack having to isolate against Jordan just above the left wing. Jack backs up a little bit, inches forward, gets Jordan on his heels, and then Jack fires up a slightly contested three that goes down. Jordan could have played this a little better, though. When Jack starts to walk Jordan down, Jordan, for some reason, stays flat-footed and switches his stance. This positioning gives Jack just enough space to hoist the three. Jordan needed to get up on Jack more here. Still, it’s a fantastic shot in its own right.
The lead is down to 13 points here, and the Nets are about to trim it just a little bit more. Because of the cross screen action at the free throw line, Blake Griffin has to switch onto Thaddeus Young, and DeAndre Jordan is stuck guarding Andrea Bargnani. When the switch happens, Joe Johnson swings the ball to Bargnani on the right side for what could be an open jumper. Jordan reads this, but he does something bad. Instead of just forcing Bargnani into a tough decision, Jordan closes out way too fast, and this action allows Bargnani to beat Jordan to the baseline. Bargnani gets around Jordan, goes up for the layup, and Jordan has no choice but to foul him.
This is absolutely pitiful defense by Jordan here. Yeah, he gets switched onto Bargnani, but Jordan absolutely cannot let Bargnani beat him off the dribble on a closeout. It’s absolutely pathetic. The Nets attacked Jordan over and over in this sequence. They bet on Jordan playing the pick-and-pop conservatively, which he did, and then they bet on him getting antsy because of that, which he did. This wasn’t a good look for the third place finisher in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season. Bargnani’s spacing really impacted Los Angeles’ defense during this entire stretch. Jordan needed to run out to Bargnani, but he should have done so under more control. This can’t happen.
With the lead down to 12, the Nets needed a spark to cut it even more. They got it in the form of a tough shot. Jarrett Jack comes off a Thaddeus Young screen near the right elbow, and the Clippers defense starts to gravitate towards the strongside movement. Jack comes off the screen ready to shoot, and he sort of shot fakes, and then he pass fakes. From there, he finds Joe Johnson wide open on the weakside wing because Wesley Johnson left him alone to defend the rolling Young. Jack hits Joe with the pass, and Wesley closes out on him, but Joe knocks down the triple to cut the deficit down to single digits.
In reality, the Clippers played this semi-well. When Jack comes off the screen, the defense is there to greet him. There’s no pass to the rolling big because Wesley digs down to prevent it despite Jordan’s weird jumping attempt to block the air. Griffin jumps out on Bargnani, Crawford is with his man in the corner, and Wesley recovers to Joe. The shot is highly contested, but the veteran Brooklyn wingman knocks it down anyways. This is just a guy knocking down a tough shot.
The Nets get a rebound here and push the ball up the court. Jack fires it up to Joe Johnson on the right wing, and Johnson immediately dribble drives to his left to draw the defense towards him. Due to the hard sprinting by Young into the paint, J.J. Redick has to dig down and prevent a pass to the rim. Jordan is playing a rover role, and that’s where Redick’s help defense came in handy. However, Johnson swings the ball to Redick’s man, Bojan Bogdanovic, in the corner. Redick attempts to recover, but he’s too late to give an adequate contest. Bogdanovic fires the shot, the ball goes in, and the deficit is back into single digits once more.
Los Angeles’ defense was in scramble mode during this entire play, but they also clamped down on an easy bucket before giving up a semi-contested look. Redick did his best to help and recover, but he was simply too late on this play. Credit the Nets on this entire play. They got the Clippers out of sorts by pushing the ball up the court, and then they got a good look from a good spot by doing so. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team.
This is an elaborate pick-and-roll set designed to get Bargnani on a pop action initially. However, the Clippers defend the first action really well. This leads the Nets into a secondary pick action that forces the Clippers into a switch by putting Chris Paul on Andrea Bargnani in the post. Bargnani gets the switch, Jack gets him the ball, and Bargnani faces up, draws contact, and scores the bucket while drawing a foul. Because of this, the Clippers see their lead dwindle from 7 to 4 in the blink of an eye. Bargnani really killed the Clippers in the fourth quarter offensively, and this play illustrates just another way he was able to make an impact.
Finally, we get see the Nets attacking another mismatch. Brooklyn spots J.J. Redick guarding Thaddeus Young in the post, and Jack gets him the ball after turning down a pick from Bargnani. Young gets the ball near the right elbow, spins to the left, and then spins back to his right almost immediately so that he can hoist up a left-handed hook shot. The ball splashes through, and the Clippers now see their lead down to just 2 points. Young used his length, strength, and moves in the post to take advantage of Redick.
During the run, the Nets got some timely makes on tough shots, but they also took advantage of the Clippers’ lackadaisical defense at times. The Clippers routinely switched guards onto good post players, and they also didn’t play the pick-and-roll nearly as well as they should have. It was a perfect marriage of good offense, bad defense, and proper movement. Runs happen in basketball. It’s one of the things that makes the sport so great, but the Clippers allowed a run at one of the worst times.
Had they stayed engaged defensively then perhaps none of this happens. As it goes, they still won the game. However, routinely allowing quality shooting big men to get wide open looks from the mid-range, letting guards defend in the post against solid to good post players, and just having lapses defensively is not the way to go about business. They’ll need to pick it up in the future to avoid this type of sluggish play. Credit the Nets, though. They took advantage.