How the Clippers Keep Winning Without Blake Griffin
As soon as news broke that Griffin would miss at least two weeks with the injury, everyone started losing their minds (me included).
What Doc Rivers did in the team's first game absent Blake was start Smith, play him under five minutes and put Pierce at the four spot for over 27 minutes. Cole Aldrich also saw 13 minutes during which he played some solid basketball. The Clippers beat the Jazz 109 to 104.
Since then, Smith has played a total of six and a half minutes in eight games, and Pierce has started all but one game. The Clippers have won every single game by an average of 12.4 points per contest.
The Clippers are now nine games into a winning streak, with eight of those wins coming without the services of their best (or least second best) player.
The short answer is they've played better.
|Clippers||Pace||Points/Game||Off. Rating||Opp. Points/Game||Def. Rating|
|Last 9 Games||94.6||108.7||113.7||97.3||101.8|
That much is easily seen here, but what specifically have they improved upon?
Offensively, the three-point attack is what seems to stick out like a sore thumb. On the season (including the last nine games) the Clippers are attempting 24.7 threes per game and connecting on 8.7 of them. During their last nine, they have attempted at least 26 threes six times and have at least 10 makes in seven of those contests. They have edged out their season percentage of 35.4% by 0.2% but have done so on nearly six more attempts per night.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that they've increased both their points per game and Offensive Rating over the last 19 days.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Clippers have also improved. One might jump to the conclusion that it's because Griffin has never been known for his defense, but the numbers just don't suggest that. He's actually been pretty solid this year with a Defensive Rating of 103.
So, what is it? There is only one stat that has really notably changed -- and that's steals. The Clippers have averaged 9.8 thefts per game compared to their season average of 7.4 per game. Surprisingly, they've forced fewer than one more turnover per game. They've also improved in a couple of other categories in a very minute way, so what I really chalk their defensive improvement to is their schedule.
They haven't faced one team with a winning record, and as a whole, the teams they've faced average 14.9 turnovers per game. And that group of teams includes the lowly Lakers, Sixers and Pelicans.
Regardless of schedule, however, the Clippers have been playing really good basketball as of late. The big reason for that are those players -- both stars and role players -- stepping up in a time of need, per the numbers from NBAwowy.com.
|With Blake||Usage Rate||Points/Poss||Points/Shot||Effective FG%|
|Without Blake (Last 8)||Usage Rate||Points/Poss||Points/Shot||Effective FG%|
As a result of taking on even more of the playmaking duties than usual, Chris Paul's numbers have also seen a reasonable decline. Nonetheless, his experience and leadership is what has kept the ship afloat.
Neither DeAndre Jordan nor J.J. Redick have seen much of a spike in Usage -- however, as a duo they've added 0.41 points per possession and 0.41 points per shot while improving upon their already stellar Effective Field Goal Percentages.
Though his body might feel a different way, Pierce has been the biggest beneficiary of Blake's absence (and Josh Smith's demise). He's gotten a lot more playing time, which he's used to nearly double his Usage Rate. And his efficiency has not suffered as a result.
With how much success the Clippers have had, there's no reason to rush back Griffin, who is expected to miss at least another week of action. With a nERD of 66.6, Los Angeles is now up to fifth in our rankings as they find themselves right on Cleveland's heels. They're almost certain to make the playoffs at this point, and if Griffin comes back the same player he was to start out the year, they could get even better.