Clippers X’s and O’s: How Cavaliers schooled L.A.

Jan 21, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) puts a reverse layup against the Los Angeles Clippers in the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 21, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) puts a reverse layup against the Los Angeles Clippers in the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

To continue his Los Angeles Clippers X’s and O’s series, Jeff Nisius breaks down the film of key plays from their latest loss when they were schooled by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This game was going to be no easy task even with Blake Griffin healthy. Without him, the Los Angeles Clippers put up a fight, but ultimately were schooled by an elite Cleveland Cavaliers team on their home floor in a 102-115 loss.

Chris Paul led the way for the Clippers, scoring 30 points and dishing out nine assists. However, the Cavs’ defense was too much for the rest of the roster. The Clippers were held to 41 total points in the second and third quarters, allowing the Cavs to pull away for a majority of the game.

Kevin Love, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith tormented the Clippers’ defense, combining for 12 made threes and 83 points. The Clippers simply didn’t have the firepower or the defensive ability to hang with the Cavs.

This article series will focus on analyzing the Clippers x’s and o’s, breaking down 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 Cavs film…

We open things up with a set the Cavs ran a ton on Thursday. Irving brings the ball up and the Cavs drift into an isolation set for him on the right side of the floor against J.J. Redick.

Immediately, you can see the strain on the Clippers’ defense.

Mosgov is tucked in the backside corner, forcing DeAndre Jordan to set-up defensively on the weak-side block. Love knows he can easily punish Paul Pierce on the glass and is expecting Irving to attack off the dribble, so he closes in towards the paint for a rebound or dish. Luc Mbah a Moute is basically taken out of the play because he isn’t going to help off LeBron, and Paul has to shade towards the paint to help on a Kyrie drive while also being sucked into Smith’s shooting gravity.

Irving dances his way past Rivers and towards the elbow, keying on Jordan’s movement. DJ has no other choice, his job is to help on penetration. The problem here is that Pierce isn’t leaving Love and Luc isn’t helping any further off LeBron.

Jordan commits to the help, Timofey Mozgov slides in behind and Irving throws an easy lob for two.

These iso sets were a major weapon for the Cavs because they are nearly impossible to defend if you give up penetration.

Now that we have seen the Cavs’ starting five spread out the Clippers’ defense and stress them with their spacing, let’s flip it and take a look at the Clippers attempting to do the same with their starters.

The Clippers setup in a horns set, something they typically run when Wesley Johnson or Pierce are playing power forward. Paul actually does a great job of speeding past LeBron’s hedge and Matthew Dellavedova gets caught on the Pierce screen.

Meanwhile, Mozgov slides over to contest at the rim. However, Paul probably made the worst decision he could have in this situation, considering who was on the floor with him.

Paul had an open jumper at the elbow or a lob to Jordan, which likely results in Love committing a foul. Instead, he kicks out to Mbah a Moute who obviously isn’t a three-point threat.

Love scrambles to run him off the line, Dellavedova rotates back to cut off Luc’s penetration and he is forced to kick out to Pierce. He passes up a rushed three with LeBron closing in on him and makes a telegraphed pass to Paul in the corner that is easily picked off.

This lineup simply doesn’t offer enough spacing, especially with Pierce shooting a miserable 31.1 percent from three this season. Typically, the Clippers would be able to whip the ball around the floor with Blake Griffin in the lineup, finding an open three, but not with this lineup.

This breakdown is disheartening because it’s a simple philosophy that wasn’t executed properly.

We see Irving bring the ball up the floor against Austin Rivers. Next, LeBron darts over to set-up one of the most lethal pick-and-roll duos in the league. James seals Rivers and Johnson high hedges to cut off Irving’s attack lane.

Instead of rolling down the lane into Jordan’s help, LeBron fades into the unoccupied corner. This presents a major challenge for Johnson to recover, because there is no way the Clippers want Rivers switching onto James.

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Rivers expects James to roll and turns his attention back on Irving. Johnson is able to see LeBron fade to the wing and knows he is in trouble, because he isn’t going to be able to rotate over in time and he cant leave Irving, who could easily drive right down the lane.

Rivers needed to stick with LeBron a bit more to force him to catch the ball on the perimeter. Instead, James receives the ball just outside the elbow and attacks.

Jordan recognizes James right away, but the problem is now on the weak side. Redick is busy sticking to Smith off his baseline run and Jamal Crawford turns his back on the play to find James Jones. When Jordan helps, LeBron goes for a reverse layup and one of the best offensive rebounders in the league has a free run to the rim for an easy put back.

This entire action happens in six seconds. Defending a hedge and recover scenario properly is crucial for the rest of the defense to read and react.

While trying to find a way back into the game during the second half, Doc Rivers made a bold move. He decided to play extra small with Lance Stephenson playing the four and Austin playing the three. The decision to go small worked out for a nice stretch and allowed the Clippers to climb back within single digits.

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This play is a great example of how difficult it is to defend the Clippers when the floor is spread and Chris Paul has the ball.

Again, we see a horns set, this time with Crawford as the stretch man. Paul attacks off Cole Aldrich’s shoulder, but Love does a good job of sagging and clogging the lane. Paul slows and wants a re-screen. Dellavedova ices the Aldrich screen, forcing Paul to the sideline.

Aldrich rolls to the basket and Paul hits him with a perfect pocket pass, splitting the defenders for an easy dunk. Spacing is critical in the NBA and we’ve already seen three great examples why, especially with an elite playmaker on the floor.

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Finally, the Clippers have closed within six when Love hits them with a dagger.

The set begins with what looks like an isolated pick-and-roll for LeBron and Irving, which was diagnosed earlier in this article. However, Smith sits in the far corner instead of crossing the baseline to overload one side. Before LeBron can set a screen on Rivers, Irving flips him the ball.

Instead of allowing LeBron to isolate against Crawford, the set calls for a flip back to Irving, who just setup Rivers for a perfect screen. The Clippers do a good job of defending these screens, as Crawford fades to clog the lane.

LeBron is eventually forced to go one-on-one against Crawford. He drives, Crawford falls, Jordan helps across the paint and Stephenson properly digs, trying to seal Tristan Thompson off from receiving a drop off leading to a dunk.

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Unfortunately for the Clippers, James is able to see around the mess in the paint and finds a wide open Love for a corner three. Again, the Cavs’ spacing causes havoc on the Clippers’ defense.