On Thursday night in Los Angeles, Vinny Del Negro’s former head coach came into town and taught him a thorough lesson on his home court, and it was not pretty. At times, the Clippers appeared to be entirely disinterested with competing, and this game turned into a laugher all too quickly. As it turns out, the gap between Oklahoma City and San Antonio and the rest of the Western Conference maybe even wider than most people thought. Sure, it was one game. But the flawless offensive execution from the Spurs compared with the Clippers overall sloppiness spoke volumes about where the respective teams are in their preparations for playoff basketball.
The game opened with stellar play from Tiago Splitter on both ends of the floor. On the Spurs’ opening possession, Splitter made a perfect backcut and received a pass from Tony Parker for an easy layup. Defensively, Splitter bodied up Blake Griffin and made him work exceedingly hard to get shots off. The quality of the shots attempted by Griffin in the first quarter and throughout the evening was extremely poor, and it was largely caused by Splitter’s outstanding positioning and defense.
After taking a 34-23 lead into the second quarter, the Spurs’ bench delivered more of the same in extending the gap, leading at one point by 17 points before having a 58-43 lead at the break. In the second frame, the Clippers’ offense became even more stagnant than usual, relying on Griffin post-ups with no movement and poor spacing along with the repeated high ball-screens that continually bore no success.
Especially in comparison to San Antonio’s offensive prowess, the Clippers’ clumsy attempt at point-production was thrust into the spotlight. As much as Griffin has improved in the post, Splitter and the Spurs provided the blueprint on how to slow the Clippers’ offense to a crawl: push Griffin off the low block and make him catch the ball outside the paint in a position where he has to put it on the floor before getting a shot away.
Recently, Griffin has improved his patience on offense to the point where he is capable of slowing down, weighing his options, and completing a solid pass if he catches the ball around the elbow while rolling off of a high screen. If he catches the ball with his back to the basket and he has to dribble, however, Griffin’s handle (and patience) is not good enough to get into a good scoring position with any real consistency.
If he catches the ball in a face-up position more than eighteen feet from the basket, he is prone to taking what is a still-shaky long mid-range jumper, which defenses will concede to Griffin on a regular basis.
The second half quickly became exponentially worse than the first, as the Spurs efficiency and offensive brilliance continued to wear down the disgruntled Del Negro and his haphazard squad. The Clippers all but gave up during an unsightly third quarter while TNT continued to show Del Negro with his head in his hands and play audio clips of him imploring his team to show their character.
Things never turned around for Los Angeles, and the Spurs carried a 92-64 lead into the fourth quarter, ultimately pulling away even further and winning by a final score of
Some thoughts and numbers….
- Griffin shot just 7 of 17 from the field (17 points, 8 rebounds), bothered by a combination of Splitter, Tim Duncan, and Boris Diaw. Popovich and the Spurs understand how to guard Griffin, and they certainly executed their game plan against him effectively on Thursday night.
- To reiterate: Griffin is still improving, and he is already so much better than he was even last season. TNT’s crew touched on Griffin’s numbers being down across the board, and wondered aloud why that might be. Well, his numbers are not down much, and in fact they’re almost identical per 36 minutes. It’s likely that his minutes are down simply because the Clippers are better, leading to lower box score numbers across the board. His free throw percentage is all the way up from 52% last season to almost 66% this year, and his defense and passing are absolutely improved as well.
The only area that Griffin appears to have slipped this season is rebounding. Not just his per game average, but his overall rebounding percentage is down 2.1% from last year, and down almost a full 3% from his rookie season.
In the Clippers’ games that I have watched, it appears to be a combination of more long jumpers and, quite simply, becoming disinterested in crashing the boards. He seems to be more concerned with leaking out for fast-break dunks sometimes than he is with securing rebounds, but he usually gets away with it.
- Tiago Splitter has arrived, and he is finally getting the playing time to be able to showcase his immense talent. Also, Kawhi Leonard did not even suit up tonight due to a sore knee. Just think, things could have been even worse for the Clippers….
- The Spurs offense is absolutely gorgeous, and it amazes me that so many people can consider them a boring team to watch. Sure, they don’t have an all-world isolation player like a LeBron, Durant, Anthony, or Kobe, but the sheer basketball I.Q. that is on the court at all times for San Antonio is a sight to behold. Parker has been playing out of his mind (31 points on 12 of 16 shooting, 7 assists, zero turnovers in just 28 minutes), Danny Green cannot miss from long range, and Tiago Splitter simply understands spacing and timing with impeccable accuracy.
The creativity that Popovich allows Parker, Duncan, and Manu Ginobili to have within his offense is incredible to watch, and the roster has been put together perfectly in surrounding a number of great passers and creators with shooters like Danny Green, Gary Neal, and Matt Bonner.