LOS ANGELES, CA-The days of handing over the rock and moving out of the way for one-on-one, isolation play have gone bye-bye. Standing around idly while one player clogs up the offensive flow while dribbling out the 24-second clock is now a thing of the past. The Clippers are in a different space these days.
Doc Rivers’ team don’t have the luxury of having to rely on a couple of superstar players to bail them out whenever they get into a jam. The dependency of relying on ball-controlling point guard Chris Paul left the building back in the summer. The recent departure of power forward Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons has created more room for the type of ball-movement play that Rivers wants his squad to embrace.
For sure, this is a different team-in physical makeup and on the court. For even the casual observer, the first thing that is striking about the Clippers today than from the end of last season is how the basketball moves around the perimeter with circular ease. There is no one player who dominates the ball. The Golden State Warriors has used this philosophy enroute to three straight NBA Finals appearances and winning two championships.
If there is an analogy that best describes the Warriors’ roster it would be sleek, fast and good. There are no plodding bears roaming the paint for Golden State. They have all greyhounds. The Warriors have changed the makeup of the league.
The rest of the NBA is now trying to catch up with them as various teams have gone about the business of trying to create their own small ball magic.
With the trades of Paul and Griffin and allowing isolation specialist Jamal Crawford to walk via free agency, the Clippers are on the fast track of being in sync with today’s NBA player market. That means that perimeter ball is now the official way the game is played. That is both the present and the future.
Playing in just their second game as a member of the Clippers against the Dallas Mavericks, swingman Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris played right on cue to the team’s new offensive structure. Against the Mavericks, Harris made 9-of-20 field goal attempts to score 19 points. Bradley, known for his defensive prowess, added 12 points.
Harris, who was averaging just over 18 points a game in Detroit, is still making his adjustments in getting better acquainted with his new team.
“It’s been good, it’s only been two games but I’m continuing to get my flow, continuing to get my offense going and make plays through the offense, and then just play hard all night and do whatever I can to help the team win,” Harris said.
It usually takes a while for players to get in sync with a new offense, especially if they have been traded to another team mid-way into the season. Bradley and Harris may not reach the superstar status of a Paul or a Griffin, but they both seem to be the interchangeable parts that will help the Clippers move into the future. Whether that will reflect into a playoff berth for the Clippers this season, remains to be seen.
But the ball-stoppage tragedy that have crippled the Clippers in the postseason in recent years has officially been thrown out of the window. The fluidity of ball movement in the Clippers’ 104-101 home win against the Mavericks, illustrates the remarkable contrast in the team’s play than when they had two top-tier NBA players running through the tunnel at Staples Center.
Led by the offensive surge of Danilo Gallinari (28 points), the Clippers had five players score in double-figures against Dallas. But this not about how many points Gallinari scored, but rather how. In the past, it would be a struggle at times for the Clippers offense to gain ball flow, going on possession droughts before being bailed out by their leading scorers while everyone stood around and watched.
It’s only been a couple of games, but the constant movement and the passing game look to be remarkably improved.
“If you think about it, we started the game very well,” Gallinari said. “We went up, then we came back down, there were a lot of ups and downs during the game, but I thought that our intensity and focus on the gameplan at the end of the fourth quarter was better. Our defense was able to keep us in the game and make us win the game.”
The Clippers played loose throughout the game, but they also played smart. The Clippers only turned the ball over 13 times in the game compared the to the 20 miscues committed by the Mavericks.
Bradley, who played under Rivers as a member of the Boston Celtics, was the leading catalyst in forcing the Mavericks into unforced errors with his hounding, defensive effort.
After being outscored in the second and third quarters, the Clippers’ defense locked up everyone, outscoring the Mavericks, 26-19, in the fourth period to take the victory. Bradley left his defensive fingerprints all over this game.
When Dallas guard JJ Barea started lighting up the Clippers, it was Bradley who shut him down. Bradley also contributed three steals in the Clippers’ 27th win of the season.
“I take pride in [my defense],” Bradley said after the game. “I challenge myself and I want to go out there and guard the best guy every night. At the end of the game I want to make the plays for our team. I told Doc [Rivers], ‘I’m ready, whoever you want me to guard’. I just try to play hard for the team and never give up on the defensive end. On that last play, I just ran it down and tried to get the ball. We all have to be willing to make those plays because that’s how you win games.”