Road trips are generally a good way of testing teams. They provide additional adversity that teams don’t face at home with the travel through time zones, the increased pace of games, the wear on players’ bodies, and sleeping in hotels. This season, even without fans, the road presents additional challenges due to the health and safety protocols as players can’t even bond they way they used to pre-pandemic.
The Clippers just concluded a six-game road trip spanning nine days. They only faced one team that is currently above .500 — such is the Eastern Conference — but they played every game without their starting point guard and were missing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the first two. After finishing 4-2, now seems like a good time to take stock of what we learned about the team from this trip.
Good luck beating the Clippers when they exploit the math advantage
One of the baffling things about the Clippers last season was the team’s reluctance to shoot threes. They had so many capable shooters on the roster, but 3-point volume was not an emphasis for their offense.
That is no longer the case. After taking 34 percent of their shots from long range last season, which was below league average, the Clippers have upped that figure to 38.4 so far this season, good for ninth in NBA. They’re also leading the NBA in 3-point percentage; so far this week, they’ve hit 17 three against the Knicks, 15 against the Nets, and 20 against the Cavaliers.
When the Clippers get corner threes — they’re third in the league in the frequency of those — it’s curtains, because they’re making a preposterous 52.2 percent of those shots. In the last three games, LA made 23-of-39 corner 3-pointers. All that ball movement is doing wonders for getting the Clippers shots in the best areas on the court, and they’re taking care of business when those opportunities present themselves.
The Clippers have some of the best midrange shooters in the league, and they’re clearly comfortable in that part of the floor, but they’re marking a concerted effort to improve their points per possession taking more threes. George made that clear after the team’s win over Cleveland, when the Clippers took 34 threes to 10 for the Cavaliers.
“They shot 10 threes, so we limited them from playing on the perimeter and challenged everything,” George said. “They make those shots, good for them. We on the other hand got 34 3-point attempts, made 20 of those. So basically giving up two for threes.”
It’s hard to argue with that math.
The Clippers still don’t like matinee games
A bug of the Clippers’ schedule is that, as the third tenant in Staples Center (the L.A. Kings and Lakers get first dibs), they’re often subject to afternoon games on the weekends. It was a particular nuisance for former head coach Doc Rivers, but he’s not the only one who has expressed disdain for that set-up.
Somehow, the Clippers even got saddled with an afternoon game on the road, one that ended up being at 10 a.m. PT against the New York Knicks Sunday. Leonard make particular note of the timing of that game when evaluating the trip, and it’s safe to say he wasn’t a fan since he had just joined the team on the road that Friday and hadn’t really adjusted to East Coast time yet.
“Pretty tough trip, you know, with those back-to-backs, and then basically having a Los Angeles 10 a.m. game against a young Knick team, winning that game, I think we did a pretty good job,” Leonard said Wednesday.
Last season, the Clippers went 4-3 in early games during the pre-hiatus portion of the regular season, but they were outscored by 18 points during those seven contests. Thus far this season, the Clippers are 3-1 in the afternoon time slot, and their current point differential is minus-26 because of that Dallas game that we said we weren’t going to talk about. The wins at home against Chicago and Oklahoma City at home were a little nervy, but the Clippers showed some real fortitude on the road in New York. Perhaps their matinee woes are coming to an end.
The NBA fraternity continues to clown on Paul George, but the Clippers have rallied around him
George is in the middle of an absolutely outstanding season. He is averaging 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. The scoring total is the second highest of his career and the assists would be a career best, by a substantial margin. He’s doing all this without compromising his efficiency, as he’s shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from 3-point range — the man just nailed 8-of-9 threes against the Cavaliers, doubling Cleveland’s total 3-point output himself.
Unfortunately, George keeps catching heat from players around the league thanks to the events of previous seasons, starting with Devin Booker earlier in the year and now from Jared Dudley. The Clippers superstar is making his case on the court that he is in the best form of his career. Unfortunately, much like this team as a whole, his success won’t be taken seriously until it comes in the postseason.
The good news is that the rest of the Clippers have his back. Team chemistry is assuredly not an issue this year.
. @LawMurrayTheNU - "Jared Dudley released a book and said Paul George is —“— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) February 3, 2021
Tyronn Lue cuts him off - “A book? Jared Dudley? ... I know I can't cuss on here so I won't, but who cares? Just be who you are, play your game. Who cares what people say?”#Clippers pic.twitter.com/hp0rkvLtVY
The Clippers miss Patrick Beverley
The primary type of player that has given the Clippers trouble this season is the small, shifty guard who can get to his spots. There were four examples of that this week in Immanuel Quickley, Kyrie Irving, Collin Sexton, and Darius Garland. Those four guards are each about 6’2, yet they all put up at least 23 points against LA while making more than half their shots.
Irving was the most successful, putting up 39 in his team’s win, but when non All-Stars are still shredding the Clippers defense at the point of attack (Nickeil Alexander-Walker also comes to mind), it’s a concern worth addressing, and that’s where Beverley comes into play. Defending speed isn’t his greatest strength, but Beverley applies pressure to ball handlers, something his replacements don’t really do. That leads to turnovers and rushed shots, not the composed looks those guards got this week.
LA’s defense is 15.2 points per 100 possessions better with Beverley on the court, per Cleaning the Glass, the best on/off split of any Clipper. As Nic Batum said Tuesday after the Brooklyn loss, the biggest lesson he’s learned about this team is the importance of their starting point guard.
“One thing for sure: That we miss Pat Bev tonight,” Batum said. “We forget about that guy a lot, I think. It would be huge for us tonight so Pat Bev come back, please.”
What lessons did you learn from the Clippers over this recent stretch?