The Los Angeles Lakers shocked the NBA world when they beat up on the Los Angeles Clippers on opening night. Their bench players were electric scoring 73 points in a 116-103 win.
To the casual NBA eye, this may have come as a shocker. After all, the Clippers are one of the few stacked teams in the league. They have the best point guard in the game, a plethora of shooters on the outside and one of the best front court combinations in the league. They weren’t supposed to lose a game against a team led by a couple of guys who may or may not be in retirement homes next season.
But when you review the film, it’s plain as day why the Lakers won. The popular and simplified answer to why they won is that they have ‘heart’ and they were resilient, determined and tough among other cheap adjectives. And it’s obvious to anyone that the Lakers were fired up to play this game last night. Everyone and their mother is standing by the Clippers as the best team in the Pacific–a rare occasion in hoops history, indeed. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s warranted.
Many pundits will tell you that heart and effort don’t show up on the statsheet–but here I’m to tell you that both concepts do. They may not be spelled out plain as day, but there are effort stats within the game that will normally serve as an indicator of success.
The Lakers’ bench had 73 points last night, but that only tells half of the story. The Lakers had 28 points off of turnovers last night according to NBA.com’s wonderful stats tool. They also had 30 points off of second chance opportunities. They outrebounded the Clippers 52-40 and had 18 offensive rebounds. Along with all of that, they scored 13 fastbreak points.
So, these are the stats that really fueled the Lakers victory. The Clippers just had too many flaws in their fundamental defensive and rebounding play last night. They weren’t boxing out, getting back on defense or defending the three ball well. They Lakers shot 48% from deep on 29 shots–that’s unheard of in professional basketball.
Now, let’s dig into the tape.
The Transition Game
The Lakers mainly dominated the game in transition and semi-transition opportunities. The Clippers were very fundamentally flawed in this aspect of the game last night. For starters, everyone wasn’t running back on defense. This is one of the first things that players are reminded to do in NBA training camp. If you don’t run back on defense, you don’t play–especially with Doc Rivers, who emphasizes getting back on defense even if it means sacrificing offensive rebounds.
Plays like this one were happening all night long.
If you’re an NBA player, that is just flatout unacceptable. The Lakers had a three on one fastbreak against Chris Paul and the rest of the team was jogging back. They were either winded or being lazy–I’ll go with the latter.
The difference between the amount of blue and the amount of yellow in the screenshot above is stark. And if you’re going to contend for titles like the Clippers want to, this can’t be the case. Even if the Lakers got a gift of a turnover.
The Lakers ended up with an easy score after a Xavier Henry dunk (one that was pretty phenomenal). Even in Doc’s latter days in Boston, they never struggled in transition. Transition defense isn’t something that teams normally struggle with. It’s really just a fundamental basketball concept. Your opposition is going to try to fill the lanes–you have to get back to try to clog those same lanes or contest a shot. Having your 6’0, scrappy point guard isn’t good enough at that point.
The Clippers failed to communicate with each other last night in transition. That is made apparent in this next video where they fail to pick up a trailing player behind the break. Too many players get caught up on the weak side of the floor and that left Steve Blake wide open beyond the arch.
Transition offense fundamentals: Fill the lanes to enable easy passing opportunity and easy scores. Transition defense fundamentals: find a man and stick to him. The Clippers failed on their end of the bargain on this play. Steve Blake was allowed to settle at the top of the arch without a man sticking to him.
Paul was deep into the paint because he was the first player back on defense. J.J. Redick picked up the ball, which is the right thing to do in this situation. It was up to Matt Barnes to rotate to Blake and then Paul would have room to rotate to the man in the corner. Blake Griffin would’ve protected the rim from any drive and then the offense would’ve been forced to reset.
The Clippers were like men who had their feet cemented in stone at the bottom of the ocean–they didn’t move and drowned because of it. This shows a clear lack of communication on the defensive end and they have to fix that as a team if they want to contend.
This next play is pretty self explanatory.
Jared Dudley just lets Jordan Farmar blow by him instead of keeping his body square and impeding his path. He doesn’t move laterally and Farmar uses his quickness to get to the rim. Deandre Jordan tries to salvage the play by coming from the other side of the rim, but it’s far too late and Farmar has already gotten the shot up.
These simple plays are just a few examples of what caused the Clippers to collapse last night.
Rebounding and Rotations
The second most prevalent issue that the Clippers had last night was on the glass. The Lakers weren’t playing big for a majority of the night. Normally, they’d give a spacing look where there was one big on the floor–be it Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill or Chris Kaman.
The Lakers were still able to maintain an advantage on the glass. That’s because they were able to dictate size to the Clippers and they were also able to take advantage of their fundamental mistakes.
The Clippers were forced to play with some small looks last night because of how well the Lakers spaced the floor. They were hitting an insane amount of three point shots and Doc went small because he thought that he could defend that better.
It turns out that that didn’t prevent threes in either case, and that’s because their rotations were bad. That also led to some problems on the glass. Gasol, Kaman and Hill were all able to grab at least eight rebounds last night. They combined for 27 rebounds all together–12 of them were on the offensive end. In the play below, we can see an example of why.
Henry sets a screen on Darren Collison to free up Farmar in the corner.
Dudley, who is guarding Henry, is thinking that he and Collision will switch the screen in order to make up for lost space and keep the defense flowing. But they both move with Farmar into the corner and leave Henry wide open above the arch. This forces Ryan Hollins to come and close out, which in turn, leads to the play shown above.
Take a look at the play in slow motion. You can see that there is not one body in front of Hill at the rim. And with Hill’s skill on the offensive glass, that’s a guaranteed extra possession for the Lakers.
That’s an easy offensive rebound and, even if he doesn’t make the shot, that gives the Lakers extra possessions. If you’re going to contend you can’t afford to surrender extra points and possessions so easily.
All of the mistakes that the Clippers made on opening night can be easily corrected. All of these players have been taught the fundamentals of basketball at some point or another–that’s why they’re professional. But if they don’t get these things fixed, they won’t contend for a title this year and the season will be a bust.
Just ask the Lakers–they saw it happen to them for the same reasons last season. Fundamental basketball can make or break a team. Luckily for the Clippers, they have a chance to get the kinks out now before things start to get heavy.