Does Oklahoma City Have an Advantage against Blake Griffin?
Blake Griffin has been fantastic this season, deserving of a top-five finish in MVP voting. He was dominant in the Clippers' first-round series against the Warriors - without Andrew Bogut, the Dubs had no answer for him on the defensive end. But the Thunder have a unique anti-Blake weapon. They call him Serge Ibaka.
Zach Lowe of Grantland tweeted out that Griffin was 4 for 20 on post ups this year against the Thunder. With how good he has been, this stat got me curious to what exactly was happening down on the block when the Thunder and Clippers met. So, I went on nba.com and watched every single Griffin post up and shot attempt against the Thunder this year. Here's what I found: Ibaka owns him in the post.
Numbers Against Ibaka This Year
In order to see this easier, I've created a table of Griffin versus Ibaka offensive plays this year. Griffin, by my measurements, made an offensive play at the basket 17 times this year against Ibaka. I am not counting times when he posted against Ibaka and then passed out for a shot, something Griffin is very skilled at. This data is just Griffin versus Ibaka, offense versus defense. And as you'll see, his success rate was pretty astonishing.
|Post Ups||Pick and Rolls||Face Ups|
As you can see, out of the nine times that Griffin tried to post up Ibaka, he was unsuccessful every time. Many of these were little over-the-shoulder mini hook-shots that Griffin loves to do, and Ibaka's length really bothered him on these.
In fact, the only true success that Griffin had against Ibaka during the regular season was, ironically, his jump shot. Ibaka is a rare breed of basketball player that can match Griffin's strength and quickness. If Griffin has his back turned, it makes sense that the advantage would go to Ibaka - the shift of balance is in Ibaka's favor. However, when Griffin would catch at the post or wing and turn, it would take away Ibaka's defensive advantage and Griffin had a better chance of either getting his shot off or getting around Ibaka.
Blake Griffin is one of the most athletic humans in the world. The Clippers have been great this year at putting him in positions where he can leverage that advantage. They've let him bring the ball down in transition and let him face-up iso a lot more than in the past. Although Ibaka shut him down this year in the post, against all other defenders (especially Durant) Griffin was a force that the Thunder couldn't handle. This will be particularly interesting if the Thunder go small with Durant at the four, which many analysts believe is their best lineup. As Ibaka is uniquely qualified to handle Griffin at the four, Griffin is uniquely qualified to punish Durant in the same position.
Numbers Against Ibaka in Game 1
Against Ibaka on Monday night, Griffin pretty much abandoned his post up game altogether. The first five plays that Griffin was defended by Ibaka and made an offensive move, they were all face up jumpers. The first two Griffin caught on the left post, turned to face up, and drained a bank-shot jumper over Ibaka. The next three possessions against Ibaka, Griffin did the same (the next two on the right block instead) but missed the shot.
After that, Griffin found a way to get rid of Ibaka that was very smart. If you watched the game, you know that Chris Paul went bananas, hitting eight of nine three-pointers for a total of 32 points. Griffin used a hot CP3 to his advantage and played their pick and rolls in a clever way.
When Griffin would come up with Ibaka to screen CP3, Ibaka would overcommit to helping on CP3, and rightfully so. Thus, for several pick and rolls in a row, Griffin would instead slip the screen at the last second rather than set it, which would leave a momentary gap where Ibaka and CP3's defender (usually Russell Westbrook) would be leaning towards CP3. Then Paul would rifle in a bounce pass through the two defenders to Griffin, who had already slipped into the lane. And I think we all know what Griffin does with a head of steam in the lane without a rim protector.
Obviously the Thunder will watch the tape and make adjustments based on how the Clippers executed the pick and roll. And it's likely that CP3 won't continue shooting at such a ridiculous rate, so Ibaka will be able to shift more of his attention to Griffin. If that happens, it will be very interesting to see how Griffin handles Ibaka in the post. Every time he got it on a post up against Ibaka, he faced up and attacked him that way, with some success. However, if he goes back to his regular season form and tries to play Ibaka with his back to the basket, he will be in for a very long series.