The Los Angeles Clippers are known more for their efficient offense and high-flying lobs than for playing hard-nosed defense, and with good reason.
Through the first couple of months of the season, they looked like legitimate title contenders because they paired that fantastic offense with a stifling defense led by a bench unit that was denying points at an almost historic rate.
Recently, however, that hasn’t been the case.
Since March 1, they’ve allowed 105.6 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 23rd in the league had it marked their full-season effort, per NBA.com.
On April 13 against the Memphis Grizzlies, though, the Clips stepped up their effort on the defensive end of the court. Specifically, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and backup bigs Ryan Hollins and Lamar Odom made life extremely difficult for Zach Randolph on the low block.
Though he’s having a bit of a down year—and a down month since returning from injury—scoring on the block, Randolph is well-known as one of the strongest and most creative low post scorers in the league.
The Clippers were able to hold him to an inefficient output by making him work extremely hard for position, forcing him off his spots and occasionally fronting him in the post to deny the easy entry pass.
As a result, Randolph went 4-of-11 from the field with three turnovers on post-up and isolation plays during the game, per mySynergySports.
Let’s take a look at a screenshot from Memphis’ first possession of the game.
Randolph catches the ball with 13 seconds on the shot clock, with both feet far outside the painted area—not exactly ideal post position. When he reverse pivots to face up, he winds up about 18 feet away from the basket before even starting his move with 10 seconds on the shot clock.
Z-Bo may have a feathery touch on his jump shot, but he’s shooting only 34.9 percent from mid-range this season, per NBA.com, and hasn’t hit over 40 percent from mid-range since the 2009-10 season. The farther he’s pushed from the hoop when he catches the ball, the more likely he is to have to settle for a jumper over getting to the rim for a layup or a foul, and that’s a win for the defense every time.
Here, DeAndre Jordan aggressively fronts Randolph in the post in delayed transition, not allowing Tayshaun Prince to make the simple entry pass.
Instead of catching the ball coming from the wing with 16 seconds on the shot clock, Randolph has to engage in some arm fighting and spin his body around to receive a pass from the top of the key with only 11 seconds on the shot clock.
Though Randolph does catch with a foot in the lane, Jordan is right on his back, so when Randolph quickly wheels around to try a baby hook, it’s well contested and doesn’t catch any of the rim after glancing off the backboard.
Even on plays where Randolph was able to get good position early in the shot clock, the Clippers made him earn it.
While he’s improved slightly as a defender this season, this kind of play is still not something you usually see out of Blake Griffin.
He fights and pushes to make Randolph work hard for that position on the block, and when he catches, Blake is still right there all over him. Randolph gets an and-one on the play, but it was indicative of just how hard he had to work for his points all night long.
He was far more likely to catch the ball in positions like this, rather than being able to catch the ball with one or both feet in the paint:
When playing the post, winning the war for position is half the battle.
If you can make a player like Randolph catch the ball and start his move from outside his comfort zone, you can force him into an evening of inefficient offense, and that’s exactly what the Clippers did on their way to a 91-87 victory.
Unless otherwise sourced, all stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats