The 4-Point Play: Boston must slow down the 'fast zombie' Clippers
Will the Boston Celtics' terrible transition defense be able to stop the Los Angeles Clippers' destructive fast breaks?
|Boston needs to get back and defend the Clippers. (Getty Images)|
The Los Angeles Clippers are streaking right now. They’ve made it through the quad and are almost at the gymnasium. They face off against a Boston Celtics team tonight that has often been the bump in the road for a lot of winning streaks since they became an Eastern Conference power in 2007.
However, with the Clippers showing very few weaknesses and the Celtics finally showing a great defensive effort on Christmas Day, Boston may have to hope for the law of averages to end the Clippers’ winning ways, rather than relying on a great defensive effort. Chris Paul , Blake Griffin and their deep cast of supporting players have won 14 straight games and eight in a row at home. In order for Boston to end this streak tonight, they’re going to have to cut out LA’s transition game and keep the Clippers out of the paint.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, that’s exactly what Los Angeles loves to do.
I’ve never been a big fan of zombie movies that feature slow zombies. I get people who are grossed out by the gore of seeing a gaggle of zombies tearing apart a victim in some George Romero incarnation, but they’ve just never really been much more than an inspiration for cracking jokes about horror movies. I’m an incredibly slow walker and still feel like I could stroll past the undead that you see in these movies.
However, when "28 Days Later" came around, it was the first time I saw zombies or infected people who act like zombies sprinting toward the victims. That was the first time a “zombie” movie actually scared me. It led us to more movies in which the undead were treating their playgrounds like Ray Allen or Richard Hamilton running around screens to get to open shots. They were relentless and speedy.
Los Angeles’ attack on the break is similar. They come at you like waves of speedy zombies, and, as you attempt to reload with ammunition, you’re fumbling to the ground. One is coming at you and then the next, and then another one is right on top of you.
The Clippers’ attack in transition is suffocating. They come at you in waves of scoring, often turning one fast break basket into another and turning the momentum in the blink of a highlight. Synergy Sports has the Clippers’ transition offense ranked seventh in the NBA with 1.2 points per possession, making 62.8 percent of their attempts.
They don’t subscribe to the vision of zombie movies of the past. They’re sprinting at full speed.
This is the most basic way they attack you. They have Chris Paul dribbling up the middle of the floor and one of their athletic freaks filling a lane as the defense is slow to get back and keep people out of the paint. And since nobody wants to end up on a poster any more, Griffin usually has a pretty direct and uninhibited lane to the hoop.
It seems simple enough to stop. Just get back on defense and body-up your man before he gets to the basket. However, the Clippers are so quick to attack that you rarely know what hits you before they’ve retreated.
The leak-out is something this team is so good at doing. Blake Griffin knows that if DeAndre Jordan is grabbing a rebound, a potential dunk is just a couple of seconds away. One of the things Jordan has really improved upon this season is getting outlet passes to the wings and guards. But because he has learned to look up the court and hit a teammate in stride, he’s able to get a Dwyane Wade - LeBron James type of connection with Griffin from time to time.
Having a power forward like this makes it so uncomfortable for the defense because they’re not used to dealing with guys that big leaking out into easy baskets.
The other way they hit you quickly is by just using their speed against you. Eric Bledsoe does the best job of this for the Clippers because Paul is usually pulling back a little and looking to deliver a pass or pull up for a jumper. With Bledsoe, he’s just looking to cram the ball down your throat.
He has great vision in the open floor and can find holes in the defense to attack like Adrian Peterson breaks through a line of scrimmage. Both guys find paydirt in their own respective ways. Once Bledsoe turns the corner on the defense, it’s pretty much over for that defensive stand.
This might be the most deadly and frustrating way the Clippers attack you on defense. Their secondary transition game is as good as anybody’s. The secondary transition is essentially creating mismatches and confusion within the ensuing halfcourt possession. You do this by pushing the tempo and making teams match up quickly instead of matching up ideally for their own defensive purposes.
Then the trailer on the play -- usually DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin -- come flying down the lane for an easy dunk or a quick alley-oop. And with Chris Paul delivering lobs, it’s pretty futile to hope for tipping the ball away or getting the benefit of an errant pass.
The Celtics have the worst transition defense in all of basketball when measuring it by points per transition possession given up. They surrender 1.28 points per transition possession and 65.1 percent from the field. They also give up a lot of good 3-point looks in transition. Opponents shoot 46.3 percent from three on these possessions.
The big reason is the video you see above. They just looked confused when they’re back on defense and trying to match up with their opponents. A big chunk of this could be playing guys who are unfamiliar with the system. Whatever the reason, the Clippers will look to take advantage of it. You can just forget about the player who starts the break once he gives up the ball.
The Celtics also are just really bad at giving up running lanes to their opponents. In this play, KG steps up to cut off Luol Deng as Paul Pierce tries to herd him into the help defense. But in the process, Boozer is able to slip past the defense on the left side of the lane and get an easy basket. You see this a lot with the Celtics.
The most confusing part about the Celtics’ poor transition defense is that it’s not because of rebounding. As we have learned over the years, the Celtics value getting back on defense more than they do offensive rebounds. They simply don’t really put much effort into crashing the boards on their own missed shots.
They currently possess the lowest offensive rebounding percentage in NBA history as a team, according to Basketball-Reference. This is one year after setting the lowest offensive rebounding percentage in NBA history. Boston is not getting caught up in a battle for offensive rebounds. They’re simply not getting back and playing solid defense.
If they want to stop the streaking Clippers zombies tonight, they’ll have to find a way to correct this.
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