Rivers needs to stagger his Clippers stars


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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — A funny thing happened in the third quarter of the Clippers-Warriors game last Wednesday. L.A., down eight when Chris Paul picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, came back and took the lead with its starting point guard on the bench.

Last season, the Clippers outscored their opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions when Paul was on the floor and were outscored by 7.6 when he was off it. That on-off-court NetRtg differential of 19.8 points per 100 possessions was the biggest among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes.

When Paul was on the bench, the Clippers’ offense scored just 95.6 points per 100 possessions, a number that would have ranked 29th — ahead of only the historically bad Sixers — last season.

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DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are also on the list above, and Blake Griffin (11.7) was 12th in on-off-court NetRtg differential. Essentially, the Clippers’ starting lineup was great and their bench was bad.

But the Clips’ best players basically played together and sat together. Their starting lineup played 300 more minutes than any other lineup in the league.

Paul was off the floor for 13.3 minutes per game, but Jordan was on the floor for just 3.2 of those minutes, while Griffin was on the floor for only 2.8 of those minutes. Some of those minutes with no stars on the floor was garbage time, but much of it came while the game still hung in the balance.

The Griffin number is the more important number, because he has the ability to keep the offense afloat with Paul on the bench. Two seasons ago, Paul missed an 18-game stretch in January and early February. The Clippers went 12-6 with the league’s second best offense in that stretch, with Griffin averaging 27.5 points and 4.4 assists.

The Clips had a more competent back-up point guard — Darren Collison — at that point. But even now, it stands to reason that if Griffin is on the floor, the Clippers aren’t going to be as bad as the Sixers offensively.

They scored 19 points in the final 8:00 of that third quarter against the Warriors last week. And they had a solid offensive game against the Rockets on Saturday, with Paul sitting out with a sore groin.

Before Paul’s injury, Clippers coach Doc Rivers basically played and sat Paul and Griffin together, much like last season. Here’s their substitution pattern from their Nov. 2 game against Phoenix, with minutes with neither on the floor highlighted in blue…

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The Clippers played the first 6:35 of the second quarter with neither Paul nor Griffin, and did the same for another 7:28 spanning the third and fourth quarters. That’s a lot of time to trust the offense to Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson or Jamal Crawford.

The additions that Doc Rivers made this summer were praised by some, but we can’t forget that two not-so-great teams were more than happy to get rid of Stephenson and Josh Smith (and are better since they did). This bench still has big questions, and Paul’s on-off-court numbers this season look eerily familiar.

But on Monday against Memphis, Paul came out of the game earlier than he did last week. So his minutes were more staggered with those of Griffin…

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The change was likely due to Paul playing his first game back from injury, but it kept at least one of the team’s two best players on the floor for all but three minutes.

The Clippers were a minus-6 in those 12 minutes where Griffin was on the floor without Paul, but if Doc Rivers kept that substitution pattern throughout the season, his team wouldn’t lose so many leads with his bench on the floor. And that might ultimately allow his best players to get more rest in fourth quarters and be fresher for the postseason.

One Comment

  1. Taser_This says:

    Clippers were up 10 with 7:30 or so left in the fourth against GSW. Chris Paul was in but Doc held some starters back while GSW put theirs in, and GSW erased the lead instantly. Predictable. Coaching mistake in my opinion. That was the game. Doc did not adapt the rotation to the situation.

    In the the big loss against Houston last year in the playoffs, when we were up 19 with 1:30 left in the third quarter, Doc pulled Chris Paul out. That was the series. HUGE mistake. In prior games, Houston knocked down the Clipper lead with Paul out at the same time in the game. This was the closer for the series. All Doc had to do was keep Chris Paul in the game for another 90 seconds, to get to the end of the third quarter to protect lead before pulling Paul for a rest. Winning the series would give them plenty of rest before GSW, and CP would get the rest from the third quarter break and whatever rest into the fourth. HUGE, HUGE coaching mistake, and lack of coaching imagination, and situational awareness. I put this on Doc.

    As a Clipper fan, these mistakes were obvious at the time sitting in the stands, when they occurred, even before the other team acted upon them. When Doc pulled CP during that Houston game, was thinking NO, NO, NO, leave him in until the break – this is a special situation. It seems to be the same mistake over and over.