Russell Westbrook’s flaws were exploited by Warriors’ gimmick defense, but Clippers’ struggles go much deeper
SAN FRANCISCO. If you catch a glimpse of the nationally televised Thursday night prime-time game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, you might think Russell Westbrook is training with a ball in an empty gym. It looked like one of those commercials where Giannis Antetokounmpo and the dude from that Marvel movie erases passers-by in the background of their photo with a swipe of their finger.
The marriage between Westbrook and the Clippers was a little bewildering from the start – the team had just started playing well behind a healthy Kawhi Leonard, they had finally found what seemed like a long-term solution in point guard Terence Mann, and they had just added backcourt depth at the trade deadline. with Bones Hyland and Eric Gordon. Westbrook’s signing was questionable, even when he was expected to be the spark plug off the bench. It seemed that starting him in the first game in Clipper uniform was doomed to failure.
Sure enough, after a boring 115-91 loss to the Warriors, the Clippers are now 0-4 in the Russell Westbrook era.
The most important problem Westbrook brings to the Clippers has been early and often by the Warriors defending him like he was a clicker from The Last of Us, keeping as far away as possible.
Dray guards Russ 👀 pic.twitter.com/mpeKmmzeGl
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 3, 2023
Opponents have defended Westbrook with centers at various points in his career, but conniving veteran Draymond Green, no stranger to manipulating opponents with heading, completely let the former MVP’s guard down, knowing that any jump shot he attempted was a win for the defense. The result was a packed lane for potential attacks by Leonard and Paul George, with an extra defender ready to switch to any shooter other than Westbrook.
Clippers head coach Tyrone Liu, who discussed scenarios with Westbrook on a white board in the locker room before the game, said he had not prepared his team well enough for the scenario. However, Westbrook was at times successful in dealing with extreme falls, especially in the first half. Not having a defender within a six-foot radius of you allows you to see how the game is progressing and receive passes that might otherwise be rejected, as Westbrook did here with that dime to George for a downtime.
Coincidentally, Westbrook could also learn a thing or two from Green, who has faced similar defenses throughout his career and countered them with dribbling and screening to free teammates. This is what Liu wants to see more from Westbrook if and when he faces that kind of defense again.
The problems Westbrook creates offensively when he doesn’t shoot, especially around a center like Ivica Zubac or Mason Plumley, are very real. But the Clippers aren’t worried that the extreme fall will cause them too many problems down the road.
“I thought he counterattacked correctly. The problem was we just missed,” George said after Thursday’s loss, when the Clippers made 9 of 43 shots from three-point range. “Many of us just didn’t make open shots. So I thought about how they played with him – he was counter-attacking, he was in an attacking mode and he played fast.
A defensive gimmick against Westbrook would make headlines, but several Clippers, including Liu, attributed Thursday’s loss to a lack of effort, especially on defense. The Warriors beat the Clippers 42–16 in the third quarter, effectively ending the game.
Extended defensive lapses were common during a four-game losing streak muted by a 176–175 double overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings, the NBA’s second-highest scoring game of all time. Liu said he wants to cut his rotation soon and they don’t have much time to turn on their new parts, but the Clippers don’t think that should be a factor for the veteran group.
“We’ve all been in winning situations and there shouldn’t be any excuses,” Gordon said after the loss to the Warriors. “We have to put in more effort. We must pay more attention to details. For me, everything depends on us, the players, and we have to put in more effort.”
The Clippers don’t have much time to figure everything out. After Thursday’s loss, a team that many predicted would make it to the Western Conference Finals or more finished in 7th place, just one game ahead of the 11th-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and the 12th-seeded Portland Trail. . Blazers in the loss column. The Clippers have a difficult remaining schedule, including three games against the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and one against the Phoenix Suns.
There is no time to mess around and in the end it can all come down to effort and urgency.
“You have to be tougher, and that’s the point,” Liu said. “When something goes wrong, it shows what you are made of. I’m sure we have a good team and they should be the same. They should feel the same confidence. … I just, you know, have such a toughness, such a mindset that things are not going well, and let’s do something about it.”