Clippers’ elevated defense is the key to their improvement


The Los Angeles Clippers have now won seven of their last 10 games, and the key to their turnaround has been their much improved defense.

It may not have been too pretty most of the time, but the Los Angeles Clippers have won seven of their last 10 games and are finally getting the results that fans would have expected from their reloaded team. Regardless of how convincing some of their performances have been, a least a win is a win. They’ve closed out a few more narrow games and have more intensity.

What’s the reason for this turnaround? Along with some other factors such as a healthy Chris Paul and J.J. Redick and altered rotations, defense has undoubtedly been the key to the Clippers’ success.

Scoring may be the staple of the team, but it’s been their defense so far that has been the x-factor. Now that they have won seven of their last 10 games, it’s an elevated sense of intensity to contend at that end of the floor that has helped the Clippers get results over the first half of December.

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In fact, over their last 12 games, they have allowed opponents to score just 95.9 points per game, in comparison to 105.7 over the first 12 outings. There’s less pressure for players to put up unwise shots when their opponent racks up a high score, and more easy opportunities are created in fast break situations when their defense steps up. It’s simple, but an increase in effort to contend defensively is making a huge difference.

Along with Wesley Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute has been one of the best surprise signings the Clippers made this summer. He didn’t have the attention and intrigue surrounding him like Lance Stephenson or Paul Pierce, but he brings the defensive mindset that the team needs, and he’s been using it to great effect in small bursts so far.

He’s plays with energy whenever he gets a chance (18.6 minutes a night over the last 10 games), and has a good combination of quickness and length as a 6’8″ forward who can guard multiple positions. Yes, there’s no denying he’s very limited offensively, but now that the Clippers’ opponents score an entire 9.8 points per 100 possessions less while Mbah a Moute is on the floor, the impact he has is obvious.

Luc is forcing players to shoot 7.5 percent worse than normal when he guards them, and he isn’t the only player stepping up. Austin Rivers has taken a major step forward defensively, DeAndre Jordan has the best defensive rating of his career so far (97), Redick is underrated as always (players are shooting 5.3 percent lower than normal against him), and the Clippers have generally been contending far more at that end of the floor.

It’s been a team effort, and the shooting percentages of their opponents this month say a lot about how a normally weak defensive squad have started turning things around.

Over their six games in December so far, the Clippers rank 5th in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage within five feet of the basket (55.5). When moving out to 10-19 feet, they rank 5th yet again (per As for their three point defense, they rank 8th for the month, and are now 9th in the league for the season by holding opponents to shoot just 33.6 percent from deep (per

For L.A. to rank so high in all those categories, considering their normally average-at-best defense and recent struggles, is extremely impressive.

Another way in which the Clippers have improved recently is through some simple addition by subtraction. To bolster their defense, Doc Rivers has needed to take major liabilities such as Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce out the game more. As the worst defenders on the team, this instantly leads to more defensive stops and more importantly, it helps lead to more wins. Less getting out-matched on the perimeter, and less of Pierce hopelessly trying to defend the paint as a stretch power forward, is a definite bonus.

Over the last 12 games, Crawford has averaged a slightly better (but still too high) 26 minutes, while Pierce has averaged just 11 minutes, which is exactly half the playing time he averaged over the first 12 games.

Dec 7, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Lance Stephenson (1) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. The Clippers defeated the Timberwolves 110-106. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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One problem that has still been apparent, though, is the Clippers’ rebounding. Not necessarily their ability to rebound with the likes of Griffin and Jordan, but their desire and level of physicality to do so. There are still instances where guards are standing under the rim watching the ball and waiting for a big man to grab the board, which swiftly leads to an opponent flying in for an offensive put-back or an easy second possession.

That simply can’t happen, and to see guys like Stephenson (who is strong for a 6’5″ guard) not boxing out is puzzling. The same goes for Jordan, as his awareness could be better at times and he can’t rely on his athleticism to always get rebounds if an opponent bests him with more effort and better positioning.

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Sometimes the awareness and effort is there, although sometimes isn’t good enough for the Clippers. They are trying to make the most of this season, which means they need to play every game like they’re in the playoffs. They need to make a conscious decision to try and stop every possession of their opponents and go after every single board like the game is on the line.

That being said, the Clippers aren’t going to turn into a convincing contender over night. The first quarter of their season has had more than its fair share of struggles and from Doc’s rotations to the bench play, things are by no means perfect.

However, it’s obvious this team can score, so now that the defense to back it up is starting to appear, it’s a major positive. It can help turnaround their season, and it’s been the key to their recent success.