Every locker room has at least one guy who sincerely enjoys engaging in chalk talk. Fast forward fifteen years and they might be walking a sideline or working color commentary for a broadcast. In the Heat locker room, James Jones is that guy (though Zydrunas Ilgauskas is your man when you want to talk pick-and-roll coverage). Ryan Gomes fills that role for the Clippers -- and every other team for which he's played since the dawn of time.
Gomes had an unremarkable night, finishing with 11 points, four rebounds and a pair of assists, though he logged a game-high +14 during his 38 minutes on the floor. But rest assured, nobody was paying closer attention to what transpired on the court.
The Heat turned in one of their worst defensive outings of the season on Wednesday night. They surrendered 58 points in the paint to the Clippers on 49 shots. That doesn't even include the 34 attempts at the stripe -- the majority of which were manufactured inside. There were a good number of transition buckets, but the Clippers were in the lane all night and the Heat seemed powerless to stop them.
How were the Clippers able to generate so many high-percentage shots? Gomes shared his thoughts:
We moved the ball well and we were cutting. We know they show on their pick-and-rolls hard and they rotate the bottom guy. So what we did was, when they rotated, we made sure we had the center or another guard go into the middle of the paint. That’s how we got them a little lost and create open looks for everyone. That was our scheme tonight.
The Clippers exposed one of the Heat's weaknesses, namely that the rotator at the bottom of the defense is often Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Big Z has logged tens of thousands of defensive rotations from the back line over his 13-year career, but he just doesn't have the feet to do it promptly, one reason why we've seen more Joel Anthony lately. With Bosh jumping out hard at the top of the floor on Baron Davis, that rotator has to slide over and pick up a rolling Blake Griffin.
Go ahead and try it.
What about containing the Heat on the other side of the ball? The Heat worked themselves plenty of decent looks, but the Clippers got timely stops when they needed them, particularly in the second half when their offense stalled a bit. Gomes explained it this way:
What we did was push up on the screens. They like to run a lot of angle pick-and-rolls and side pick-and-rolls. So we pushed up with our big men and made them take wider angles. That forces them to take perimeter shots. We know they have Ilgauksas, who can pop, and Bosh who can pop and hit jump shots. But we have to clog the paint – especially on LeBron. We don’t want him to get down the middle of the lane because that’s where they get in, throw pitch-back passes, dunks. They also do a lot in transition, so we made sure we had guys back every time a shot went up.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has spoken about this strategy at length. Teams like to bring another man over to the strong side of the floor -- right in front of that angle pick-and-roll Gomes is talking about. While that's going on, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu or Gomes push the penetrator away from the basket. The Clippers' big men were far less successful against Dwyane Wade than they were LeBron James. Wade is too crafty reversing course, crossing over or just finding the crease against that kind of pressure. But the Clips did a nice job against James. Having quick feet helps, and the Clipper big men are exceptionally mobile.
Gomes also points out that the Clippers were particularly vigilant about their transition defense. They gave up only nine fast break points to Miami primarily because, as Gomes states, they reacted quickly when the Heat launched a shot. The Clippers are the league's second-ranked offensive rebounding squad, and you've certainly seen at least one of Griffin's monstrous putbacks -- but you didn't on Wednesday night. Against the Heat, the Clips posted a 21.4 offensive rebounding rate, far below their season average of 29.9. That's because the Clippers wisely sacrificed a few potential offensive boards in favor of a much tighter transition D. Wise choice, and it paid dividends against the Heat, who could never get their transition attack rolling.
Denver is a team in flux -- and James may not play on Thursday against the Nuggets -- but watching Tom Thibodeau's defensive blueprint against the Heat in Chicago will be fascinating to watch.