Clippers-Warriors: Doc Rivers’ poor rotations cost L.A. again


Clippers-Warriors matchups are always thrilling, but Doc Rivers helped the champions win with more poor rotation calls late in the game.

Clippers-Warriors has become the best rivalry in basketball. It’s a competitive, talent filled matchup between two elite rivals that has led to two dramatic games already this season. However, as has been the case with any other team to have a shot at ending the Warriors’ perfect start, the Clippers weren’t enough. Despite gaining a 23 point lead in the first half, they still weren’t enough as the game wound on and the depth and dominance of the champions emerged.

The key player that led the Clippers to such a startling lead early on was Chris Paul. It was doubtful he’d even make it onto the floor after dealing with a groin injury, yet he put together his best performance of the season so far with 35 points, four rebounds, eight assists and three steals. He bothered Stephen Curry on defense too, although his efforts were quickly undone in the second half as the Warriors stormed back.

In the first quarter, though, Paul racked up 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting. It looked like the Clippers had a genuine shot. The foul trouble of Curry and Draymond Green helped early on, but L.A. still looked like they could take over behind the stellar play of Paul and the constant force of Blake Griffin in the post.

The Warriors started to come back as anyone watching would have anticipated. They closed the lead slightly by entering half time down 54-68, and L.A. cooled off slightly after Paul’s red hot first quarter. As is the case with any Warriors-Clippers matchup, though, it looked far from over. It would take an impressive effort to come back from 14 down in the last two quarters against a top team, but that’s the kind of effort that the Warriors can deliver more than any other team in the league.

And right on queue, their shooters got going, Curry got cooking, and their defense was able to help prevent any more 41 point quarters from the Clippers after they shot 70 percent in the first 12 minutes.

Then the Clippers’ bench happened, and that lead dwindled in a hurry with them on the floor. In fact, it was two players in particular that led to their demise.

Nov 19, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) defends Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) in the first quarter of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

However, before looking into why the Clippers lost their 23 point lead and a chance to defeat the undefeated champions, it needs to be acknowledged just how good those undefeated champions are. This loss isn’t remotely all on the Clippers. The Warriors are the better side, they kept their resolve, kept fighting, and behind a collective effort from Curry, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala late in the game, they pulled together.

That’s ultimately what champions do, and Thursday night was no different.

That being said, there’s a fundamental problem with the Clippers that can’t be ignored right now. Even more so after blowing another chance at defeating their rivals.

Doc Rivers’ rotations are just, well, awful at times. When the Clippers needed defensive stops throughout the second half and especially late in the fourth quarter, Doc was insistent on keeping Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce in the game. Who, in case you haven’t seem them in too much action yet, are possibly the Clippers’ worst perimeter defenders.

But, as is now so blatantly clear, Doc likes trusting his guys. So that now seems to extend beyond the elite starting five and to the likes of Pierce and Crawford, who can’t defend top guards at all — let alone the best backcourt there is in the NBA.

While they were on the court, Paul and Austin Rivers displayed the best way to try and stop Curry. Of course, it was better for the Clippers when they had the All-Defensive first team CP3 on him, but Rivers did a good job throughout the night, too. They never backed off him, went over screens, tried to force him inside the three point line, and went chest-to-chest with him and used some physicality to stop him just pulling up in their face or driving to the basket. That really is all you can do to try and stop him.

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Without those two on the floor, the Clippers struggled. Not just against Curry, but against the plethora of shooters Golden State have — which just so happens to be pretty much everyone on the team. Specifically, the duo of Crawford and Pierce on the wing is a combo that Doc insisted using late in the game who were constantly lost on defense.

The pair simply didn’t work. The Warriors made key shots of course, and they went a ridiculous 11-of-15 from the field and 8-of-9 from three to earn the 39 points they desperately needed in the final quarter. From Barnes and Iguodala to Curry and Thompson, everyone delivered when it mattered most. But that doesn’t hide the fact that Doc’s decision to keep Crawford and Pierce in so much cost the Clippers.

To highlight just how detrimental they’ve been on defense this season, they both have a defensive rating of at least 108. And that’s just the start. In their two games against the Warriors this season, they have been burned in every sense of the word. With Crawford’s defensive rating of 126 in these contests and Pierce’s mark of 124, the Clippers’ perimeter defense has suffered heavily. Plus, with a questionable small ball lineup that Doc still used far too often on Thursday night, Pierce gets abused in the paint on defense as well. And if that wasn’t all bad enough, their +/- numbers are abysmal (Crawford has -21.2 and Pierce has a hard to believe -46.6 against the Warriors this season).

Seriously, -46.6 for Pierce.

A combination of his shooting struggles and lack of speed to keep up with the Warriors’ fast paced perimeter shooting has led to that statistic. As for Crawford, he just doesn’t read plays well, falls asleep on defense too often, and also lacks the ability and instincts to stick with players one-on-one.

Nov 19, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) blocks a shot by Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce (34) in the second half of the game at Staples Center. The Warriors won 124-117. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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Maybe if Doc had an indication of this he would have benched them more when it mattered most. Sadly for L.A., that wasn’t the case. As usual, a Clippers-Warriors matchup ended in heartbreak and disbelief as the former squandered a 23 point lead.

And as the Warriors went on their 22-5 run in the fourth quarter to take the lead, their unquestionable team ability outmatched the Clippers’ offense and the defensive liabilities of the players that Doc seems so loyal to.

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If this continues, what was the point in signing players like Wesley Johnson, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith? All three of those players can be more effective defensively than Crawford and Pierce, in particular the latter two. They could have done far more to stay aware, contest shots, and prevent the likes of Barnes and Iguodala destroying the Clippers’ lead in the fourth quarter.

For some bizarre reason, though, Doc still stuck with an ageing Pierce and a totally unreliable Crawford.

Yes, any of us who can comment aren’t championship winning coaches, but where is the logic to keep your best defensive role players on the bench while you force two 35 year old players who are often liabilities on defense to take on the NBA’s deadliest offensive force?

Johnson and Smith barely even had half the playing time of Crawford, who racked up 39 minutes. As for Stephenson, well, he didn’t even make it onto the court.

Doc bought in new, versatile talent for a reason. It’s about time he started using it correctly.