All season long, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has been preaching his mantra that NBA championships can be won only with good defense and his new team finally came up with the goods for all four quarters. In the beginning of the season, though, this message seemingly went unheard by the team, a team who, instead of living up to Doc’s expectation, chose to use their superior offensive power to attempt to overcome and trounce their opponents.
So far this season the Clippers have given up an average of 106.2 points per game, which ranks 21st in the league out of 30 teams. They are ever so fortunate that they have the offensive power to put up an average of 110.9 points a game, which ranks second in the league. It has been a proven fact that, when it matters most, good defense triumphs over good offense. The Clippers, while having shown they can score with the best, have not shown they can defend the best, or even the mediocre for that matter. Over the last two games, however, this offense first attitude has, to all appearances, changed, and changed for the better.
It all started with a 103-102 win over the Sacramento Kings last Saturday. While the Clippers gave up more than 100 points, which is never the objective in any NBA game, many other positives came from this victory. First, the Clippers held the Kings to 42 percent shooting on the game. While this is not shell-shockingly impressive, it has more significance given that the majority of Sacramento’s offense comes from up-and-coming big man DeMarcus Cousins. Points from centers mean buckets in the paint, which means a lot of layups and dunks. In other words, easy baskets. That game Cousins took 25 percent of the team’s total shots. Also during this game, the Clippers held the Kings to just 5-for-17 from 3-point land (29.4 percent).
On the season the Kings are shooting 32.7 percent from beyond the arc. No matter what a team shoots from that territory, it’s always a positive note to keep them under 30 percent. While the defensive effort wasn’t one to call home about, it certainly gave the team positive momentum going forward.
Then came the game against the Chicago Bulls. Doc’s pre-game speech must have been one for the ages …
The Bulls came out with their heads hung low and lackadaisical due to the loss of their superstar, Derrick Rose, who is out for the season yet again after suffering an injury in his right knee last Friday. The loss of their teammate certainly had an effect on the Bulls’ psyche and it showed in their performance that night. Doc struggled to keep a beaming smile off his face after the Clippers produced an all-around effort against a severely weakened Chicago Bulls lineup at Staples Center on Sunday, romping to a 121-82 victory that was the largest winning margin in franchise history. The Bulls were always likely to struggle in the absence of their star player, as they were routed while six Los Angeles players scored in double digits.
But it was the Clippers’ stingy defense, superbly led by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, that most excited Rivers. The Clippers held the struggling Bulls to just 39.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Clips won the rebounding battle by five, the assists contest by eight, forced 14 turnovers, recorded eight steals to the Bulls’ two and rejected four more shots. Their defense was simply suffocating. They seemed to have a renewed sense of energy and aggressiveness as they trounced the Bulls by an embarrassing margin.
As the Clippers continue their quest for greatness, there is no doubt that more and more emphasis will be placed on defense by Rivers, who led the Boston Celtics to a championship through his defense-first approach. It is very well-known that the Clippers have more than enough offensive weapons to outscore any team in the league, but come playoff time, defense is what will be the most important factor in a seven-game series. The last two performances from the Clippers are very promising and could be the start of a string of successful games if they continue a defense-first mindset.