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Clippings: Defensive rebounds have become the Clippers’ kryptonite

Defending is hard enough before adding 14 seconds to the shot clock.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Before the start of the season, Ty Lue said that he wanted the Clippers to play with more pace. It was a goal he set before the 2020-21 campaign as well, but with a full training camp and a point guard who likes to run the floor in Eric Bledsoe, pushing the tempo seemed like a more reasonable goal. The Clippers also needed to play faster without Kawhi Leonard, the hub of their dominant halfcourt offense.

In a sense, the Clippers have been successful. After finishing 28th in pace last year, the Clippers are all the way up to 11th. The problem is that they’re absolutely terrible at finishing on the break. Per Cleaning the Glass, they only score 112 points per 100 transition possessions, which is well below the league average of 121.3. Think about all the possessions that the Clippers have gotten a steal or pushed after a live rebound and then thrown the ball to one in particular. The efficiency in transition hasn’t been there.

And because opposing teams know that the Clippers can’t beat them in transition, that has created a new problem, one that Paul George ably identified after a loss to New Orleans when only six of the team’s 104 points came on fast breaks.

“It’s every team that’s going to crash against us,” George said. “That’s obviously our kryptonite, every team goes towards that, sending guys to the glass and, you know, they just think that they can do that and there’s no penalty to it because we haven’t been a great transition team once we get rebounds. I mean, we’re going to see this every night where teams are just going to send guys to the glass.”

Even though the Clippers have been a strong defensive team (top-3 heading into tonight’s clash against the Lakers), defensive rebounds have been their lone weakness. They allow opponents to collect 25.9 percent of available offensive rebounds, which leads to 13.5 second-chance points per game, seventh-worst in the league.

The Pelicans had 18 second-chance points on Monday, a day after the Warriors had 15 out of only 105 total points. Even Detroit had 21 second-chance points when they scored just 96 in their loss. Lue seemed so afraid of the defensive glass against Sacramento — a team that grabs 27 percent of potential offensive rebounds — that he started two centers, Ivica Zubac and Serge Ibaka, just to grab more boards. It worked, but it was a pyrrhic victory; that starting lineup had no sense of how to function together offensively and was repeatedly burned defensively by 3-pointers instead because the bigs had to go under on high ball screens.

The Clippers have a lot of issues to work through currently, among them turnovers and offensive execution. Those problems require practice to address and unfortunately, some better talent, too. Rebounding, though? That’s effort. The Clippers just have to find a body and box him out, and they’re not doing that enough, even with three centers in the rotation. If the team is going to stop its recent losing streak, the glass is a good place to start.

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