The Portland Trail Blazers entered their game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night having scored at least 100 points in every game and sporting an above-average offense.
Then they met the gauntlet that is the Clippers defense and only scored 16 points in each of the first two quarters and didn’t crack 20 in a quarter until the fourth, when the game was already decided.
So what makes this Clippers defense so potent? The answer is their ability to limit opponent efficiency from the field, where they are holding teams to 43.4 effective field goal percentage, tops in the league, and the best going back at least as far as 2012-2013.
That 43.4 opponent eFG% is 3.3 standard deviations better than average, a mind boggling number that brings their Defensive Four Factors Rating to +10.47, which over the course of the season would be the highest rating on either side of the ball since the 2013 season.
The next highest rated defense in that time span was last season’s Spurs, who were only + 6.85 in DFFR.
The changes on the court leading to this defensive surge starts with Luc Mbah a Moute and his ability to guard point guards. This change may impact their offensive spacing to a degree as seen in the dip in offensive efficiency to this point (+1.5 Offensive Four Factors Rating this season compared to +3.76, +6.57, and +6.29 the previous 3 seasons), but it gives them the ability to switch most screens and takes a tremendous workload off the shoulders of Chris Paul by taking him off the ball defensively.
Paul is now able to use his intelligence to direct the team and play passing lanes, and his strength prevents most wings from taking advantage of him in the post.
The ability of both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to switch out onto the perimeter and move laterally shouldn’t be underestimated either, as late clock pick and roll situations become much less effective against switching defenses.
According to basketball-reference the Clippers have an 87.2 Defensive Rating with Chris Paul on the court, and the team has an 84.9 Defensive Rating with Mbah a Moute.
The bench isn’t allowing opponents to make up any ground either as the team has a 92.5 Defensive Rating with Marreese Speights on the court and 92.9 with Jamal Crawford on the court.
This Clippers defense knows how good they are and are constantly looking to challenge themselves. “I think now our team is excited about our defense,” Paul told reporters. “We get excited about stopping teams and trying to keep them under a certain number. I think that’s something that can be contagious all season long.”
Only eightgames into the season it may be a little bit early to call this defense the best we have seen in a long time, but the Clippers have a chance to end up with that title should they continue to pay attention to the small details and trust in the game plan.