The Clippers have adopted a novel strategy: finish the game in the first quarter. It’s working well for them. The Clippers used a 24-2 first quarter run as a springboard to a lopsided 114-82 victory against the visiting Detroit Pistons.
Much as they did during Saturday’s drubbing of the Spurs, the Clippers made stops at one end and made baskets at the other.
If that’s too reductive for you, then the more elaborate story is that the Clipper offense is operating like a whirring, ball-sharing ballet of fun. It’s elite-level stuff and an actual improvement upon the super-high-level stuff of recent seasons. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul played as twin, parallel playmakers, combining for 11 first-quarter assists on their way to a combined 17 for the game (Blake 9, Paul 8) with just a single turnover.
JJ Redick (20 points, 6-9 FG, 3-4 3PT) is a perpetual motion machine with a jump shot. DeAndre Jordan is perpetually a jumping machine. In a matchup of the NBA’s defending rebounding kings, Jordan (8 points, 10 rebounds) bested his younger counterpart, Andre Drummond (15 points, 12 rebounds), in on-court play if not in numbers. Paul led all scorers with 24 points, boosted by a 5-for-5 three-point shooting performance.
All that having been said, it may be Luc Mbah a Moute’s admirable progression from “there” to “functional part” that has added another element to this offense. Tonight’s game provided additional evidence that the defensive specialist is playing with more purpose and aggression. He still can’t shoot and his finishing is wonky, but his willingness to cut in a confident manner cures some of the spacing ills created by his many offensive weaknesses. (It also allows him to stay on the floor longer which helps the defense, and yes, the defense is coming...)
Detroit’s defense entered the game ranked 5th in the NBA in efficiency but was mercilessly unraveled by the Clippers’ passing prowess. The Piston defense is talented but has lapses reminiscent of recent Clipper teams. Their first, and sometimes second, rotation is effective. It’s the extra pass beyond those two rotations that’s proving too difficult for them to solve. The Pistons are still a youngish team, and its fair to grant them some more seasoning. It’s taken the Clippers several seasons of shared experience to address this problem.
And boy, have they addressed it. The league’s FIRST-RANKED defense (by efficiency) put the brakes on the Pistons big-time. 15 points allowed in the first quarter. 17 in the second. 21 in the third. 36.6% shooting. Six turnovers forced in the first quarter. Sure, shutting down the spacing-deficient Pistons isn’t an achievement on par with stifling the expert Spurs, but you play who’s in front of you.
Missing star point guard Reggie Jackson and his enterprising pick and roll play, Stan Van Gundy’s squad lacked the shooting and creativity to find the cracks in a dense Clipper D. Ish Smith, Jackson’s replacement, can’t shoot; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is typically no Ray Allen, and tonight he shot like Tony Allen (0-6 FG); and with the guards struggling, slashers Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris found little room in which to work effectively.
Of course, all this may have been for naught if the bench had performed like in seasons past and wasted away the starters’ good work. Fortunately for all Clippers involved, Doc Rivers’ rebuilt bench submitted another stellar outing. Jamal Crawford is no longer the sole scoring option. It’s fair to question whether he’s even the reserves’ first scoring option. Ray Felton sprinted his way to 10 points, Austin Rivers added 11 and 4 assists, and the bench kept the pressure on the outmatched Pistons for the entirety of the fourth quarter to preserve the eye-popping margin of victory.
Hey guys, save some for May and June.
- The Clippers’ 6-1 start is the best in franchise history.
- The Prime Ticket broadcast noted that JJ Redick has made at least one 3-point basket in 63 straight games, which now leads the NBA after Stephen Curry went 3-less against the Lakers. Redick’s streak is the longest in franchise history as well.
- Marreese Speights fouled out in 19 minutes in a 32-point blowout. Somehow. Do your thing, Mo.
Next up: Home vs. Portland, Wednesday at 7:30 PM