Clippers clamp down on defense in fourth

(The Los Angeles Clippers host the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at 10:30 ET on ESPN.)

Over the past three seasons, Kobe Bryant has been at his best against the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s averaging 31.1 points per game against them and shooting 55 percent from the field. Against the rest of the league during that span, Bryant has scored 26.8 points and shot 44 percent.

Bryant had 40 points against the Clippers in the second game of the season and shot the ball well from deep: 4 of 6 from 15 feet and beyond.

Jamal Crawford’s defense

Has anyone noticed the impact that Jamal Crawford has had on the Clippers defense this season?

Clippers with Jamal Crawford On/Off Floor

Opponents this season are shooting just over 40 percent when Crawford is on the floor (see chart).

Where Crawford has excelled the most, albeit in a limited sample, is defending the ballhandler in a pick-and-roll. Of the 31 such plays that Crawford has defended, ballhandlers have scored (on baskets or at the free throw line) only six times, and are shooting 2 for 18 from the field.

Clippers closeout defense

The Clippers rank in the top five in both opponents’ field goal percentage and points per game. One reason is they have ratcheted their play up a notch in the fourth quarter.

Opponents are shooting a league-low 38 percent and averaging a league-low 23 points against the Clippers in the fourth quarter. In their past eight home games, the Clippers have allowed an average of 18 fourth-quarter points. (The Golden State Warriors scored 33 points in the fourth quarter rout of the Clippers on Wednesday, but that’s been the exception rather than the norm.)

The Clippers are forcing a league-best 4.6 fourth-quarter turnovers.

The Clippers have lost back-to-back games following their 17-game win streak. Still, they lead the Lakers by nine games in the standings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the largest lead the Clippers have ever had over the Lakers entering a game against them since the Clippers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984.