Coming into the night, it seemed natural that the LA Clippers, 28-26, would have a pretty easy night ahead of them against the 19-38 Brooklyn Nets. The Clippers entered the game 19-6 against sub-.500 teams, while the Nets entered the game 11-19 at home and just 1-9 in their last 10 games. But the Nets, lacking in talent most nights, have deftly utilized a combination of pace, ball movement, off-ball movement, and smothering defense to make up for the differential. Their record doesn’t quite reflect how well they play on a nightly basis, nor does it reflect just how much they pressure opponents into close games late. Tonight was an excellent example, where the Clippers found themselves up by as many as 23 but leading by as few as 9 points late in the game. A late surge by D’Angelo Russell had the game looking uncertain for a brief but significant stretch. The Clippers hung on, however, to defeat the Brooklyn Nets, 114-101.
It Takes Everything
Even during brief offensive lulls, as well a small series of defensive lapses, the Clippers appeared engaged the entire evening. One of the primary concerns against Nets, which is often a concern with younger teams, was adjusting to the pace of game. The Nets like to take advantage of transition defense whenever possible, but even in the half court, when utilizing the entire shot clock, they move so well, on and off the ball, that teams often have trouble maintaining defensive pace. Early on, the Clippers had some trouble making switches to the right players and avoiding back-door cuts by the Nets. But once the Clippers began smothering on defense and cutting off passing lanes, they became very disruptive. They were able to turn great defense into offense. By the end of the night, 7 Clippers players had scored in double-figures, led by Lou Williams’ 20 points off the bench, as well as DeAndre Jordan’s 16 points and 17 rebounds.
The Clippers began dictating the pace of the game early on, pushing the ball up the floor immediately following defensive boards, while looking to score very early into shot clocks. In establishing a fast-paced game, they would maximize their number of possessions and play the downhill style that suits them best. They scored 60 of their 114 points in the paint, also scoring 19 points as a result of Nets turnovers. They ended the game shooting 56.5% from the floor, 37.5% from the arc, and 85.7% from the line. And not a single Clipper played more than 36 minutes.
Moving the Ball
The Clippers had just 19 assists on 48 made field goals, a figure that illustrates a tendency towards isolation basketball. This group has had a multitude of injuries, lineup changes, as well as recent new additions in Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Boban Maranovic (and the departure of Blake Griffin). In adjusting, it is only natural that the ball might have trouble switching hands, but the Clippers will need to shore up here. The ball didn’t seem to necessarily stick very much, but open men were often left too open in favor of well-contested downhill shots. The Clippers have been great in the paint, especially in the new year, but will need to better-utilize screens and hand-offs to get their outside shooting going.
The Clippers will face one of their toughest road opponents this season on Wednesday when they play the Celtics in Boston. The Celtics have been one of the best defensive teams in the league this season, thanks largely to their size and versatility. The Clippers will need to communicate very effectively defensively, against a Boston team with so many offensive options capable of demanding double-teams.
For now, though, the Clippers can feel good about a solid team win, where everyone contributed and everyone mattered. DeAndre Jordan also appeared happier than he has in quite some time, a very refreshing sign for Clippers fans.