After getting out of the gate unexpectedly hot, the Los Angeles Clippers stumbled into a mediocre 6-4 record after ten games. Since a call for change from superstar Kawhi Leonard after blowing a double-digit lead to the Golden State Warriors, the Clippers have recovered to reel off four straight wins, their longest win streak of this early season and best 14-game start since the 2016-2017 season. Over those four games, the Clippers have used a healthy blend of offensive versatility and stingy defense to muster up some encouraging wins with plus play on both ends of the court.
THE DEFENSIVE END
When Ty Lue abandoned the three-guard bench lineup of Lou Williams, Reggie Jackson, and Luke Kennard, the defense unsurprisingly tightened up. During three of their last four wins, the Clippers put forward some impressive performances on the defensive end despite being undermanned; Lou Williams, Serge Ibaka, and Patrick Beverley all missed games in that stretch. In three consecutive outings, they held the Pelicans, Kings, and Pacers to 106, 100, and 98 points on 35.7%, 30.8%, and 28.9% shooting respectively, while allowing just 29 three-point makes.
On January 10th, the Clippers played a particularly weird game — winning a contest in which they allowed the Chicago Bulls to shoot an absurd 61 percent from the field while nailing 18 three-pointers. Of course, what else would we expect from a Clippers Sunday matinee? However, those numbers weren’t a result of bad defense. It mostly had a lot to do with a ridiculously hot-handed Zach LaVine, one of the NBA’s top scorers, making some ridiculous shots. Outside of LaVine’s 45 points and 10 made threes, no other players did enough offensively for the Bulls to really hurt the Clippers’ chances of winning the game.
From my lens it’s easy to see that guys are more aware of what they need to be doing on defense and are executing better than recent years. There hasn’t been as much confusion on switches, guys are rotating in scramble situations, second and third efforts are there, and vocal communication has been noticeable. The Clippers’ defensive rating still isn’t great, but the effort is there, and the execution is steadily improving. However, the Clippers’ improvement in play isn’t just on defense – it’s on both ends of the game.
THE OFFENSIVE END
If you didn’t know, the Clippers are leading the NBA in three-point percentage at 44 percent. Their league-leading percentage features six players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc on over three attempts per game, with Paul George, Luke Kennard, and Marcus Morris all shooting 50 percent or above. Therefore, it must have felt like shooters’ heaven being gifted a stretch of games where they faced the Bulls, Pelicans, and Kings, who are amongst some of the NBA’s worst when it comes to defending the three-point line. To nobody’s surprise, the Clippers continued to shoot the three-ball at a historic rate.
After catching a compromised Pacers team on the final game of their West-Coast road trip, the Clippers concluded their four-game streak having made 28 more three-pointers than their opponents, tallying at least 18 makes in each of the games. If you’re doing the math, that’s plus-84 points from behind the arc. Some of this hot shooting is bound to regress as the season continues, but there’s no denying the team’s potential to rain threes on a nightly basis. The ball movement has been excellent, and as long as the Clippers continue to consistently generate open looks, the shots will fall on aggregate.
Part of what had been costing the Clippers during the early season was their inability to play good basketball towards the end of quarters. Oftentimes they would surrender leads or deepen their deficits with poorly timed turnovers, bad shot selection, and lackluster defense. Much to my delight, those issues have been resolved as of late. As a result, they were able to put together a couple of 30+ point victories over the Kings and Pacers, while controlling a game comfortably from start to finish against the Pelicans.
The Clippers will remain at Staples Center for the next three games to finish up a home stand against the recently defeated Sacramento Kings and the .500 Oklahoma City Thunder. Needless to say, it’s important that the Clippers take advantage of these should-win games, especially with a tough six game East-Coast trip on the horizon. The Clippers should look to add to their current win streak and continue their stellar play on both ends.