Clippers X’s and O’s: Game 7 vs. Memphis Grizzlies


The first meeting of the season between the Mephis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers was… ugly… again. Fortunately, the Clippers were able to pull away late, winning 94-92.

Throughout the entire 48 minutes, the Grizzlies were able to dictate pace, not allowing the Clippers out in transition. Defensively, both teams were solid, but each side also missed plenty of open looks from the perimeter.

With Chris Paul hobbled via a hamstring injury, Blake Griffin once again rose to the occasion, scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Conversely, Zach Randolph punished the Clippers, scoring 26 points, pulling down nine rebounds and dishing four assists.

This article series will focus on analyzing the Clippers x’s and o’s, analyzing key plays from each end of the floor. The goal here is to take a seat inside the coaches film room and see what the team executed well and where the breakdowns were.

Let’s get started with the Clippers and Grizzlies tape…

First, let me take a second to acknowledge Doc Rivers and his mastery for calling sideline out-of-bounds plays. He has always done a great job drawing up plays coming out of timeouts and this one was no exception.

The play begins with J.J. Redick coming off a down screen by DeAndre Jordan. Redick leaks out to receive the ball and passes to Griffin. It looks like Redick is going to screen away for Paul to take a dribble hand-off, but the play is actually for Redick to receive the ball.

Unfortunately, Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger assigned Tony Allen to defend Redick in the hopes of slowing down the Clippers’ offense. Joerger is a good defensive coach and obviously recognized the impact Kawhi Leonard and Corey Brewer had defensively on Redick in the playoffs last season.

Allen sticks to Redick closely, denying the hand-off screen and forces Griffin to lob the ball out to Redick near halfcourt. At this point, the play has taken too long and is easily recognizable. JaMychal Green hedges the screen, cutting off penetration and forcing the ball to a popping Griffin.

However, Courtney Lee has already had 11 seconds to diagnose the play and is able to leave his man, Lance Stephenson, who does not pose much of a shooting threat and is in the opposite corner. Lee darts and picks off the telegraphed pass to Griffin, recording an easy steal and dunk.

Stephenson does not have enough gravity to keep Lee glued to him, and Allen did a marvelous job disrupting the initial handoff and screen action. The ability to disrupt continuity is a reason why the Grizzlies are so successful defensively. However, a defender leaving Stephenson is something we will see quite frequently when he is on the floor with the Clippers’ starters.

The Clippers have typically been a good transition defense team, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering it is a primary focus of Rivers. He tends to give up crashing the offensive glass in order to bail into transition defense and limit fast-break points.

As you can see in the clip, all five Clippers defenders are back and set on defense. The Grizzlies slow their push and Mike Conley begins their secondary-break offense by signaling for a Zach Randolph high-ball screen.

Again, we see Jordan sag off the screen to protect the paint. This coverage was designed for teams like the Grizzlies, who have two bigs who can work on the block, a point guard who can beat defenders off screens and wings who can cut off the ball.

Chris Paul does a good job getting over the screen and Jordan contains penetration. Griffin slides to help Jordan, while Redick sticks to the shooter, one pass away, even though it is Allen.

However, the breakdown comes on the backside of the play.

Two general defensive rules in the NBA are to not give help one pass away from the ball and don’t give up corner threes. This play isolates Stephenson on the weakside, who is defending Courtney Lee. He loses his help-side responsibilities by not wanting to leave Lee open in the corner.

This gaff provides Zach Randolph a wide open jumper from the top of the key. Stephenson is to blame here, as he should have rotated and jumped out on Randolph, forcing Jordan to chase Lee off the three-point line in the corner.

While the Clippers did a good job closing off the paint, this is why the Grizzlies are so difficult to defend. One missed assignment and they will make you pay.

This is another example of how difficult the Grizzlies are to defend, mainly because Randolph and Marc Gasol are so dangerous operating out of the pinch post.

Here we see the Clippers’ reserves — with Jordan — on the floor against a potent Grizzlies sub-rotation. With his team down eight early in the fourth quarter, Joerger keeps Randolph, Marc Gasol and Conley in the game with Matt Barnes and Jeff Green.

This has bad news written all over it, considering Rivers is counting on Paul Pierce and Jamal Crawford to defend away from the ball.

Conley receives the ball and immediately heads left where Green rubs Josh Smith, allowing Gasol good position to post up. Pierce trails over the rub to close down any passing lanes.

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Smith does a great job fighting Gasol and pushing him off the block. Meanwhile, Barnes comes across the floor to set a side screen on Austin Rivers, which looks like it is going to develop into a Conley basket cut with Gasol delivering one of his patented bounce passes in the paint.

However, Smith has pushed Gasol far enough off the block that he has to jump out to receive the entry pass near the three-point line. Barnes and Conley freeze the next action until Gasol controls the ball.

As Gasol squares up, Barnes slips the screen and cuts down the lane for an easy layup.

First of all, the play is centered around Gasol’s elite passing and he does a great job of using his size to hit a cutting Barnes.

Secondly, this entire play was designed to pick on Crawford. The Grizzlies run a lot of difficult to defend flex-type action and this elbow split is one of them.

The problem is that Crawford anticipates instead of relying on fundamental defense. He jumps at Conley right as Barnes cuts to the paint. Crawford needed to drift more help side, putting himself between Gasol and Barnes. Because Barnes does not have to cut through or around Crawford, it leaves no time for Jordan to slide across the paint and help the Clippers contest the shot at the rim.

Forget all the ancillary movements, rotations and action. Focus your eyes on Griffin during this sequence from defense to offense.

Griffin is defending Gasol, a task he has had problems with in the past. To make matters worse, he is cast into pick-and-roll defense against Conley.

Griffin sags off the screen, but focuses his attention on cutting off Conley’s penetration until Stephenson can recover. Griffin extends Conley all the way to the baseline, while also attaching his positioning to Gasol’s roll.

In the past, Griffin likely would have gotten lost on this assignment, either jumping too far out on Conley or sticking too close to Gasol.

When Conley passes out to a trailing Randolph, Griffin immediately holds his ground defensively, anticipating a Gasol post up and entry pass. He bodies up Gasol and begins to work him back off the block. He does a great job getting low in his stance and putting his arms out, ready to contest a shot but also signaling to the referee that he isn’t using an arm bar as leverage in the post.

Gasol eventually slips and Griffin pounces on the loose ball. He is now out in transition and is going to force a mismatch defensively, making a smaller defender pay.

Lee picks him up in transition, Griffin slows, squares and dribbles between the legs, allowing Jordan to clear the lane. Next, Griffin attacks right, draws the foul and finishes plus the free throw.

This is the increasingly impressive evolution of Griffin’s game. His defense has improved and you can see his seamless transition from defense to offense in one clip. Moments like these are when you can actually witness star players transforming into superstars.

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Finally, we close out this Clippers breakdown the way we began; praising Rivers on his sideline out-of-bounds sets.

With 96 seconds left in the game and the Clippers up two, Rivers draws up a masterful play designed to free Redick up for a crucial three-point attempt.

Rivers knows Joerger is going to switch Allen onto Paul, finally allowing Redick space from his hounding defense.

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Sure enough, Allen picks up Paul full court. As he crosses half court, the Clippers are setup in an interesting formation. Pierce and Griffin are spacing in the corners and Jordan and Redick have gathered in what looks like a narrow horns set at the top of the key.

Jordan circles up to set a ball screen on Allen. Because the screen is set so high up the floor, Conley has no choice but to help on Paul.

As Paul draws Conley out to the right wing, Allen trails feverishly, knowing he is late. Conley sticks with the ball, Jordan rolls, sucking Gasol with him, and Rivers has exactly what he wanted.

The threat of Paul getting to the elbow or rolling and tossing a lob to Jordan, allowed Redick to fade off Jordan’s roll, leaving him wide open for three. Paul recognizes Allen trailed instead of staying with Redick and he kicks back out to Redick for a wide open three.

A beautiful play call for the Clippers and an amazing read on the fly by Paul. Redick finally found space and made the Grizzlies pay.