Rivers thinks Clippers can get defensive

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
8:56
PM PT
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Doc Rivers isn't big on statistics. He'll take a look at them every now and again, but he rarely lets the numbers he sees on a sheet of paper dictate his opinion of what he actually sees on the court in a game.

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsDoc Rivers says he has seen glimpses of the Clippers becoming a great defensive team in the early part of the season.
"I never look at a stat sheet during a game," Rivers said. "At halftime I do, but I don't want it to consume my thoughts. The coaches are passing those damn things past me, but I won't look. They're yelling out these numbers and I don't want to hear that. I want us to just keep playing."

Maybe that's why Rivers can call the Los Angeles Clippers a good defensive team four games into the season despite having given up a league-high 112.5 points per game. In fact, Rivers continually harped on how the defense was so far ahead of the offense during training camp. Well, four games into the season, the offense is scoring 119 points per game, the best in the league.

"I was delusional, clearly," Rivers said with a smile. "It was at the time.

"I think our defense is pretty good. It's what's getting us our leads, but then we break down. I thought early on we were scoring and getting stops, scoring and getting stops, and right now, it seems when we get that lead, we kind of break down in our focus. We have to be a better defensive team than we are, and we have to continue to play offense."

The numbers might not show it, but Rivers can see glimpses of the Clippers becoming a great defensive team during their current three-game winning streak, with two of those wins coming against the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, playoff teams they could face in the postseason.

"I know our defense is going to come," Rivers said. "You can see it in spurts. We're going to have a game where its 86-85 and we're going to have to defend. We are getting timely stops. We're going to get it."

The biggest issue for the Clippers defensively now is having trust in one another to be where they're supposed to be and help when they're supposed to help. It's the biggest reason Rivers blows his whistle during practices or calls a timeout during games.

"If I call a timeout, it's usually over defense. It's rarely over offense," Rivers said. "I try to get them to get back. What happens, and the fear for a coach, is you can't keep having breakdowns because it breaks trust and guys say, 'Well, I'm not helping the next time because every time I help, my guy scores.' So that's the area we have to improve."

On Monday, the Clippers set a team record for points in the first half (78) in their 137-118 win over the Rockets, but instead of harping on how many points team scored in the half, Chris Paul said the focus at the half was how many points they gave up to Houston.

"We gave up 66 points," Paul said. "It's something our team talks about all day long. In an 82-game season, we're not going to make shots and score like that every night, so defense has to be where we hang our hat on.

"It's funny, we haven't held a team to under 100 points yet in four games. I promise you our defense is better than it looks. I think what has to be better is our transition defense. If you look at us now, we get back and actually get set. We have our principles and we're relying on each other, but it's just spurts, and we have to get better once again at defending the 3. It's going to get better. It's a process."

While there's certainly room for improvement on defense, it's hard to imagine the Clippers' offense getting much better than where it is right now. Not only did the Clippers score 137 points on Monday, they attempted a franchise-record 38 3-pointers and made 15 of them. It's an up-tempo style that relies on movement and spacing and has resulted in plenty of open shots, especially in transition.

"I know we're leading the league, but that doesn't consume me at all," Rivers said. "I think we can score. When I look at this team, I felt that way coming into the season. With the spacing of the shooters -- from Matt Barnes to Jared Dudley to Jamal Crawford to Paul to J.J. Redick to even Byron Mullens -- the floor is spaced, and when you have athletes like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan rolling after they set picks, that creates an action in itself. I did feel like we could score, but we're scoring a lot."

Rivers is quick to point out there is a method to the Clippers' seemingly highlight-reel offense. It might at times resemble last season's version of Lob City, but it is based in a system that will be more sustainable later in the season and certainly in the postseason when the team will have to depend on set plays and second options.

"It's up tempo, clearly, but it's not like we're just running," Rivers said. "We're running into sets. You can see the second actions. I thought we scored a lot on the multiple actions, the pick-and-roll, the swing, the pin-down and the spacing. It's good because you can run that slow or fast and that's preparation for later because you're not going to be able to get all of these breaks, but you can still run the same motion. We're playing well right now, but we have a long way to go. We can be a lot better on both ends and certainly a lot better on defense."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Blake Griffin
PTS AST STL MIN
23.2 4.2 0.7 35.0
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Jordan 13.1
AssistsC. Paul 9.9
StealsC. Paul 1.9
BlocksD. Jordan 2.4