NBA Playoffs 2015: Against Houston, the Clippers lived and died by the 3


Somewhere in the world, Phil Jackson is pumping his fist as his tweet about three-point oriented teams contained a slither of the truth — while the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Houston Rockets, all teams who rely heavily on the three ball, advance to their respective conference finals, the Los Angeles Clippers are headed home as they unexpectedly died by the three.

Unexpected because the Clippers stood as one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA. Sitting fifth in the three-point attempts per game in the regular season, Los Angeles finished third in three-point percentage at 37.6% thanks to the likes of J.J. Redick (43.7%), Chris Paul (39.8%), Matt Barnes (36.2%) and others making their mark from range.

How much the team relied on good three shooting through the regular season? Per Basketball-Reference, they were 40-9 when shooting 35% or above from three; when shooting below 35%, the Clippers were 16-17. In the postseason, this trend continued as the Clippers were 5-0 (3-0 vs Houston) when shooting 35% or higher from three and 2-6 when shooting below the mark.

And the sharp decline in three-point shooting? It falls on the shoulders of four gentlemen: J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Austin Rivers, and Jamal Crawford. In the three wins the Clippers collected over the Rockets, Barnes, Redick, Rivers, and Crawford shot a collective 46% from three. In the four losses? That number dipped to 18.7%.

That’s a huge drop and one as unpredictable as they come.

Austin Rivers’ three-point shooting in the series was a statistical anomaly. A career 32% shooter from three, the jump to 60% from three in wins is just another case to support the “hot-hand theory”, but when the chariot turned back into a pumpkin (15.4% in losses), it turned hard.

May 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) shoots the ball during the third quarter as Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) defends in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Barnes was the victim of an ongoing shoulder injury.

Jamal Crawford continued his streak of poor shooting in the postseason — the two-time Sixth Man of the Year has never shot above 40% from the field in his five playoff appearances — and shot 25.7% on his “signature” pull-up three via SportsVU’s player tracking (and for those who are wondering, 23.7% on catch-and-shoot 3s).

The biggest mystery of them all was the steep decline in shooting from J.J. Redick. Just this regular season Redick put up an all-time shooting season, becoming one of the five players in NBA history to average 16+ points with shooting splits of 47FG%, 43 3P%, and 90FT% — the other players include Stephen Curry (2x), Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash (2x), and Mark Price. And in the Clipper wins, Redick continued his all-time shooting, hitting 60% of his three-point shots in the three games. But in the losses, that number dipped to 25%.

The attempts from Redick were much of the same. Redick’s movement in the offense has been key all year, opening things up for the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, and the reverse. But the ball just wouldn’t roll the shooting guard’s way — again, unpredictable given his reputation as a player and the regular season he’d accomplished. One guess for such is a combination of minutes and role overload. While Redick has always proven to be a “sneaky good” defender, he’s never been tasked with guarding the opposite team’s best wing for majority minutes (Harden). Combine that with style of play (the engine never stops running) and minutes on the floor (38 per game, 2nd behind Blake Griffin) and fatigue can be/was an issue.


When the Clippers find themselves in the playoffs in 2016, better shooting will stand high on the hypothetical keys to success list. The personnel and rotations may not be the same outside of J.J. Redick (Crawford non-guaranteed, Rivers/Turkoglu unrestricted free agents, C.J. Wilcox development, improvement at backup/starting small forward) but the task will remain the same: complimenting Paul-Griffin with good-to-great shooting.

Or it could be another short postseason for the Clippers.