Very few wins come easy on the road these days, and even fewer are easy when you’re talking about having to play on the second night of a back-to-back or a fifth game in seven days. By the time you even get to that final game, your legs are weary and tired. You’re looking forward to the trip ending so you can get home to your own bed. For the Los Angeles Clippers, they looked extremely worn throughout the game. A lot of the shots that they’d been making over the duration of the trip were now falling short. However, when it was needed the most, they made their shots, dug in on defense, and pulled out a win against the New Orleans Pelicans. The final 100 seconds were the most crucial – and those are the possessions we’re going to look at today.
The Clippers run a snazzy set here that’s designed to get the weakside shooter open off of an early screen-and-roll action. As Chris Paul navigates around a DeAndre Jordan ball screen, Jamal Crawford curls over the top of the arc on the right side. When Jordan cuts, the defense collapses around him, and Paul hits Crawford on the curl. However, there’s no space to be had since Tyreke Evans closes out well. Crawford puts the ball on the floor, loses it, but Paul springs back into the play to pick it up. Jordan sets Paul another screen, and Paul once again dishes off to Crawford – this time on the left wing after Paul Pierce sets a little back screen. Paul passes Crawford the ball, Crawford stutter steps to his left before crossing over to his right, and he then gets to the left elbow. Crawford then rises up, shoots a tough mid-range shot, and makes it. It wasn’t a pretty possession, but it worked.
Suffice it to say that this was not an ideal possession for the Clippers. In theory, the Pelicans played this about as well as a team can play something like this. They covered the roll man, forced the perimeter player to put the ball on the floor after a heady closeout, nearly got a turnover, and then defended the other action well enough to force a struggling shooter into a tough mid-range jumper. That’s usually a win for the defense. However, Crawford was able to knock down this shot even with the defense hounding him. It says a lot about how his unconscious nature and ability to get wherever he wants on the floor quite often. This is just a case of better individual offense beating good team defense.
On the ensuing defensive possession, the Pelicans have a SLOB play coming up. The ball is inbounded to Tyreke Evans, who then hands off to Jrue Holiday. New Orleans’ entire goal on this play is to end up with a bucket at the rim. They run Holiday off of a double screen by Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis, and Holiday curls around the last screen to get downhill towards the rim. DeAndre Jordan is there to greet Holiday, and his help defense allows Austin Rivers to get back into the play. From there, Holiday attempts to throw a right-hand lob pass up to Davis, but Jordan gets a piece of it to deflect it. He then secures the rebound before getting fouled.
This is tremendous individual defense by Jordan here. He strings the ball-handler out wide on the drive, and this forces a supremely tough lob pass. Through the entire action, Jordan was expecting this play to happen. A lot of the time that New Orleans runs a double-high screen with Anderson and Davis, they’re just looking for an alley-oop off of a roll by Davis or a kickout to Anderson for three. Neither were available on the play because of the Clippers’ ability to defend on a team level. Luc Mbah a Moute stays right with Anderson, and Chris Paul digs down on Davis’ roll to help Jordan before Jordan tipped the lob pass away. Credit goes to the entire team here, but this is great defense by Jordan in particular. The way he got low then exploded to deflect the pass was incredible.
The Clippers were still looking for a way to ice the game entirely, and Chris Paul was determined to give them one. After struggling for the entire game, including starting off a miserable 1-of-14 from the field, Paul was huge in the fourth quarter with a couple of made baskets. This was one of them. He works a little screen action with Paul Pierce in order to get switched onto Alonzo Gee. Gee is a really good perimeter defender, and he was holding opponents to just 30.8 percent shooting on shots from 15+ feet this season prior to this game. Paul still wanted to go at him, though. Paul sizes Gee up, throws a couple crossovers at him, and then explodes with a quick dribble move to the left that gets Gee on his heels. As soon as Paul feels Gee start to get lost, Paul goes with a stepback jumper from 19 feet, and he knocks it down to give the Clippers a little breathing room.
Yet again we see a case of good defense by New Orleans getting obliterated by good individual offense. This is a tough shot for Chris Paul, especially on a night when he was struggling with his jumper. Prior to this shot, Paul was 0-of-9 from 16+ feet in the game, as well as 1-of-13 from outside 8 feet. He was unable to hit anything, and then he managed to hit this one shot that gave the Clippers some cushion. This was pretty darn good defense by Gee, but just a case of a great offensive player being able to operate at a higher level than the defender. This is why he’s the Point God.
After New Orleans managed to score, the Clippers come right back down and look for a basket to answer back. The Clippers are running a variation of their HORNS action here. On the left side, J.J. Redick is trying to navigate around little obstacles that Pierce is providing him. However, Redick is unable to lose the defender. On the right side, Crawford receives a little bit of a pin down screen from Jordan. Crawford sprints off of that screen, gets to the right elbow, and Paul finds him with a pass. As soon as the pass hits Crawford’s hands, he goes into the shot motion and knocks down the tough jumper as a defender hounds him from behind. This is another tough mid-range shot that the Clippers got in the closing moments of the game, but they also were hitting them with regularity down the stretch.
As huge as their offense was in the final 100 seconds, the Clippers’ defense was just as instrumental. Here, the Pelicans try to work some ball screen action with Anthony Davis before they finally have to settle and get him the ball at the left elbow. He then does something he probably should have thought twice about. Rather than trying to exploit Jordan’s lack of wanting to leave the paint, Davis chose to attack Jordan off the dribble. As Davis explodes to his left, Jordan stays firmly attached to his hip. When Davis goes up for the layup, Jordan is there to meet him and blocks it. The ball comes off the rim, Pierce grabs the rebound, and the Clippers get a stop they desperately needed. Heck of an effort on the individual defensive front by Jordan here. Also, good stuff on the top by Jamal Crawford to ICE the ball screen by Davis. It forced the Pelicans into a secondary option, and that secondary option was not good at all.
Last, we have the Clippers closing the game with defense. Tyreke Evans tries to drive to the rim, but Mbah a Moute walks him along the baseline. As Evans comes underneath the basket, Mbah a Moute puts his hands straight up in the air to prevent any possible layup attempt. Evans then passes out to Holiday on the left wing, but Rivers is there defensively. Holiday tries to shake Rivers and go with a stepback three, since they needed one, but Rivers recovers nicely enough to contest a possible shot. As Holiday brings the ball over his head, Rivers strips it cleanly and the ball bounces off of Evans’ ankle before rolling out of bounds and effectively ending the game.
Prior to the final 100 seconds, Paul and Crawford were a combined 5-of-27. However, they went 3-of-3 in those final 100 seconds to help bring the Clippers a win on the offensive end. As great as those two were on the offensive end, though, DeAndre Jordan was sensational on the defensive end down the stretch. In fact, the entire team was great. They seemed to really dig in on a night in which their offense was porous, and it helped them walk out of New Orleans with a win that they desperately needed for confidence’s sake. As they come back to Los Angeles, we can only hope that they bring this same intensity on defense with them. With Blake Griffin still sidelined, defense is where this team might need to start winning some games.