The good defense, the bad defense and the 1-0 lead
AT&T CENTER — For all the talk of Lob City and Lobs Angeles (my personal favorite), the Los Angeles Clippers aren’t quite the high flying team you’d expect. The other LA played at a pace (92 possesions per game) that ranked near the very bottom of the NBA during the regular season (25th out of 30 teams to be exact). They don’t even get all that many shots at the rim.
But during the Clippers’ 108-92 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the teams’ second round playoff series, pushing the pace (thanks to a few Spurs turnovers) was all Los Angeles could do to slow down the freight train of execution that is the silver and black.
The Clippers outscored the Spurs 17-6 on fast break points and had a puncher’s chance of beating the Western Conference’s #1 seed. But a 30-23 third quarter advantage for the Spurs, in which the Clips didn’t net a single fast break point, created enough separation for San Antonio’s deep rotation to take a one game advantage in the series.
“We were a little sluggish at the beginning, especially at the defensive end,” Manu Ginobili said. “Then we picked up and from the second quarter on we improved.”
After a 29-29 tie in the first period, the Spurs had advantages of eight and seven points in the next two quarters, taking a 87-72 lead into the fourth.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, however, didn’t quite agree with Manu’s assessment.
“Just because we won the game tonight doesn’t mean we played good defense,” Coach Pop said postgame.
While Pop is correct, the Spurs’ transition defense needs to improve greatly, the team’s half court defense was very effective. San Antonio held the Clippers to 41% shooting in the half court. That’s really good. That’s old school, it’s-still-called-the-SBC-Center good.
Friend of 48MoH Sebastian Pruiti pointed out on Twitter last night that the Spurs held Chris Paul to .778 points per possession on side pick-and-rolls in Game 1. These are possessions that Chris Paul finishes the play as the ball handler, whether it ends in a shot, assist, turnover, foul, etc. As Pruiti also pointed out, the Spurs were so good at defending it in the first half that the Clips ran that type of play only once in the second half.
Trends from Game 1 are pointing to an impending doom for the Clippers. If they can’t score in the half court, but don’t traditionally push the pace enough to score a lot in transition, what do they do? Play the starters more?
That may not be the answer. The Spurs starters had an offensive rating of 138.1 in Game 1 (138.1 points per 100 possessions). The Clippers starters had a defensive rating of 129 (129 points allowed per 100 possessions) and just a 100 OffRtg.
The Spurs had several days to prepare for the Clippers, far longer than Los Angeles had to recover from simply getting out of the first round. And while not all was perfect for the Spurs in Game 1, they’ve laid the foundation a short series by not only earning a 1-0 lead, but by taking away the Clippers strengths and leaving them with weapons not strong enough to strike a fatal blow.