Although the Los Angeles Clippers’ performance against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs has not provided proper evidence, the Clippers have much more substance than they are showing. Memphis poses major problems to Los Angeles, mainly because its strengths are pitted against the few weaknesses the Clippers have.
Regardless, the Clippers are far more versatile than they have demonstrated in this series.
For example, the Clippers’ offense against Memphis has been frighteningly bad. However, look at the season numbers. According to hoopdata, Los Angeles finished fifth in offensive efficiency, fifth in true-shooting percentage, fifth in adjusted win score and eighth in points per game.
The offense was dynamic, deep and headlined by two of the top 11 players in player efficiency rating—Chris Paul at 26.49 and Blake Griffin at 23.13. Jamal Crawford emerged as one of the top sixth men, finishing second to J.R. Smith in voting for the award. Finally, the Clippers’ bench was one of the top scoring units in the entire league.
Offensively, the Clippers were lethal from nearly every facet of the game. They were even very good on the offensive glass, despite struggling rebounding the ball on the other end of the floor. The Clippers finished seventh in offensive rebound rate and 15th in offensive rebounds per game.
Despite how well the Clippers played on offense, the one knock on them was their ability to score in a half-court setting. That is being brought to the forefront in this series against a stingy Memphis defense. As versatile as the Clippers are on offense, they do not have the ability to dump the ball into the post with the shot clock running out and get a basket.
Memphis has been able to do the exact opposite. The Clippers’ defense is able to limit Memphis’ pick-and-roll opportunities, but it has been unable to slow down Memphis' high-low game.
Some may try to claim the Clippers will go as far as Chris Paul carries them. The reality is they will go as far as Blake Griffin carries them.
Griffin’s offensive repertoire is still limited, especially with his back to the basket. Blake struggles to maneuver around strong defenders using his post moves. Yet he is lethal when he steps out of the paint and faces up defenders.
Furthermore, to show just how versatile the Clippers’ offense was this year, digest this for a second. The Clippers finished fourth in field-goal percentage, 10th in threes made and sixth in points per shot. Los Angeles was a threat from everywhere on the floor and via both units.
Defensively, the Clippers were much better than last season, finishing as one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan certainly developed on defense, although they have been unable to slow down the dynamic duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Both Blake and DJ posted career-best marks in defensive rating, according to basketball reference.
Additionally, the team defense was able to play as a cohesive unit. The starters were able to lock down opponents, while the bench picked up full-court and trapped in the half court.
The Clippers’ defense finished third in opponents' field goals made, 10th in opponents' field-goal percentage and third in scoring differential. Credit has to go to Vinny Del Negro, who was able to get his team to buy into his defensive concepts and stick to them all season. This was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season and turned into a strength this year.
Again, despite what your eyes might tell you about Vinny Del Negro’s offensive system—or lack thereof—and how Memphis’ offense is decimating the Clippers' defense in the paint, this is a bad matchup for the Clippers. All season long, the Clippers were able to impose their will on both sides of the ball.
While the talent remains available on the roster for next season, assuming Chris Paul re-signs, there will need to be a few tweaks. Oh yeah, and hopefully not another first-round series against Memphis.
Regardless, the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers are one of the most flexible and versatile teams in the league. They can score from outside, inside, run the floor and finish above the rim. They can defend for 94 feet or battle in the half court. They have superstars and an elite bench. Sometimes the obvious goes overlooked, especially when aspirations are sky-high.