Clippers X’s and O’s: Game 1 at Sacramento Kings


The 2015-16 NBA season is finally upon us and the Los Angeles Clippers opened up the season with a thrilling 111-104 win against the Sacramento Kings.

Blake Griffin was spectacular and picked up where he left off in the playoffs last season. His baskets were effortless, his passing was pristine and he looks ready to make another jump in his development.

Overall, the offensive flow was crisp as the team shot 52.5 percent from the field, but had some mishaps, registering 15 turnovers and being out rebounded by seven.

This article series will focus on breaking down the Clippers x’s and o’s, focusing on key plays from each side of the floor. The goal here is to take a seat inside the coaches film room and see what went well during each set or defensive series and where the breakdowns were.

Let’s get started

The first video details a new twist in the Clippers’ pick-and-roll coverage.

In previous seasons, head coach Doc Rivers wanted his bigs to high hedge pick-and-rolls. While that coverage worked for Rivers in the past, and even won him a title with the Boston Celtics, it resulted in multiple frantic rotations trailing behind the initial hedge.

These multiple scrambling rotations were a problem in the playoffs, especially with the Clippers’ bench. While the starters were able to flow through rotations effectively, the team lacked any length on the perimeter which made it difficult to contest shots.

As you can see above, the difference is noticeable. The new coverage requires the team’s bigs to sag off the screen, instead of high hedging. The reason Rivers installed this new coverage is to keep DeAndre Jordan closer to the paint so he can protect the rim and alter shots, hopefully improving the defense.

Jordan sagging into the lane off the initial rub action by DeMarcus Cousins, causes some confusion and leaves Cousins alone at the top of the key without a defender on him. Ben McLemore drifts up to receive a pass from Cousins and attacks into another high screen-and-roll. The problem is, Jordan is still sagging into the paint and McLemore runs right into him on his drive, tossing up a wild contested shot in the paint.

Next, we have an excellent misdirection set that will eventually turn into the league’s most devastating one-two punch.

Chris Paul brings the ball down the floor and passes to Blake Griffin in the high post. Immediately, this looks like it is going to develop into another staple of the Clippers’ offense: a dribble handoff for J.J. Redick.

As you can see, the Kings’ James Anderson is cheating, setting up behind Redick in order to trail him tightly off the Griffin screen. Instead, Redick cuts off a Paul screen, allowing Griffin an easy entry pass to Paul on the block against Rajon Rondo.

Paul collects and then squares up to the basket, which signals Griffin to set a side screen. Rudy Gay does a great job hedging the screen, knowing Paul is nearly automatic with his jumper from the free-throw line. The problem is Rondo either isnt expecting a hedge or just blew the coverage, as Griffin slips and Paul hits him with a perfect pocket pass for an easy dunk.

This next series is a lineup that Clippers’ fans will see a good amount of this season. Late in the first half, Jordan is on the bench with foul trouble. Rivers subs in his newest front-court addition, Josh Smith.

Smith’s presence defensively is extremely important, because it provides Rivers an interchangeable front court and two very good passers for big men on the floor.

Smith is matched up with Cousins, while Griffin defends Gay, because the Kings have gone with a three-guard lineup. The Kings call a horns set (double high post), which is one of the most popular in the league.

Rondo delivers an entry pass to Cousins and Gay slides across the lane to set a screen so Boogie can face up and attack. However, the Clippers’ versatility with Griffin and Smith on the floor allows them to switch the screen.

Cousins takes two dribbles and decides to continue the action, picking-and-popping with Marco Belinelli. Again, we see the Clippers’ new pick-and-roll coverage here, as Griffin sags instead of hedging, cutting off penetration.

A trailing Redick forces Belinelli to pass back out to Cousins, alone atop the three-point line. Paul stunts at him, but heads back to Rondo, leaving an open driving lane for Boogie.

However, Griffin is already in help-side position, thanks to the new coverage, and cuts off Cousins’s lane to the rim. Josh Smith, also in help-side position, because he does not have to scramble due to the new coverage, slides over and swats Cousins’ shot away.

So if the Clippers’ new pick-and-roll coverage is so great, why haven’t they run it more in the past?

Your answer awaits in the clip above.

Kings head coach George Karl decides to play small with Gay at power forward with the game on the line. Not only does he want three guards on the floor, but he has a counter to the Clippers’ sagging coverage.

Darren Collison, who was slicing the Clippers’ transition defense apart with his speed, is the lead guard in this set. He is a major threat to turn the corner off a screen and breakdown the Clippers’ defense.

Gay is now tasked with setting the screen, Cousins forces Jordan to remain in the paint and Belinelli’s gravity sucks Paul Pierce out of help-side position.

Redick properly ices (denies the screen) the Gay screen, but Gay fades, leaving him wide open for the go-ahead three.

This is the danger of sagging screens, especially when the opposition can put a lethal shooter in the help-side corner.

Lastly, I do not want to pick on Pierce’s defense, as he was clutch as usual offensively down the stretch. However, his inability to defend or trail screens is going to be exploited when he is forced to play small forward.

The Kings attack in transition off a Clippers miss, down two.

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The Clippers do a good job of recovering and setting up in transition, forcing a ball reversal. Belinelli balances the floor by cutting baseline from far sideline to the ball side, with Pierce trailing. Cousins whips the ball to Belinelli and they immediately run a side screen-and-roll with Pierce as their victim.

Again, Jordan is sagging off the screen, and by now the Kings have adjusted. Belinelli knows that he can leave Pierce in the dust and will have options coming off Boogie’s screen.

Pierce attempts to cut off Belienlli’s path, but simply doesn’t have the agility to trail screens on the perimeter. He is late chasing Belienlli, which results in Jordan playing two-on-one because Redick and Griffin were cross matched in transition.

As Griffin switches onto Gay and Redick jumps out on Collison, Gay already has Griffin sealed off. Jordan is forced to contest Belinelli at the rim and Cousins is left open for an easy dish and dunk.

Next: Blake Griffin's 33 points leads Clippers over Kings