Clippers report: Improved defense can get even better

Clippers report: Improved defense can get even better
Clippers guard Pablo Prigioni tries to knock the ball away from Thunder forward Kevin During during the first half of a game on March 2. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

The active hands and shuffling feet are there. Some rigidity might be nice too.

A firm belief in how good it really is might be about the only component missing from the Clippers' defense.

The team ranks in the top eight in the NBA in both points allowed and defensive rating, which factors in the pace of games. The Clippers gave up little more than a point per minute in the fourth quarter of their two most recent games, holding the Oklahoma City Thunder to 13 points and the Brooklyn Nets to 16 in a pair of comeback victories.


Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said there's another level his defense can reach.


"I still think we still have a trust barrier to get over [to] the next phase," Rivers said Friday. "They now know we can be a good defensive team, but I think where we've got to get to is when things aren't going well, they still know we're a good defensive team.

"You know you're great when a team scores 120 and you think it's a fluke. You question it, that breaks your defense down."

The Clippers' crazy comeback Wednesday against Oklahoma City, when they wiped out a 14-point deficit over the final five minutes, was mostly about their defense having a lot to do with what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn't do.

The Thunder stars didn't make shots or look like themselves late in the game. Durant made two of five shots for five points in the fourth quarter and Westbrook had two points while missing all six of his shots, including a wildly chucked three-pointer that could have tied the score with six seconds left.

Clippers forward Wesley Johnson forced a few turnovers and guard Austin Rivers stayed within bad breath's reach of Durant, who struggled against a player five inches shorter.

"I just tried to get under him," Rivers said after the game. "I just wanted to make it as difficult as possible. I'm gonna get under him and get really physical with him, and I was able to do it."

The Clippers held the Thunder to five points over the game's final 7:26. Long dry spells have become the norm against the Clippers, who have held five of their seven opponents since the All-Star break under 100 points.

For the season, the Clippers rank eighth in the league in points allowed per game (100.2) and seventh in defensive rating (103.3 points per 100 possessions). Not that they're satisfied.

"I think we can be better," point guard Chris Paul said.

The primary change from last season has been keeping post players closer to the basket as part of pick-and-roll coverages. The Clippers were horrendous through the end of November, ranking 19th in the league in points allowed (101.7) and 17th in defensive rating (101.6 points per 100 possessions).

Then they started drastically improving even before star power forward Blake Griffin was sidelined the day after Christmas by a quadriceps injury.

"We're just a better defensive team because we've been together longer," Doc Rivers said. "I think you put in new stuff, it takes the team a little while to trust it."


Rivers said he expected forward Luc Mbah a Moute to miss the Clippers' game against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday because of the lacerated left eyelid that also forced him to sit out against the Thunder. "It's just going to take time," Rivers said of the injury Mbah a Moute suffered Monday. "With the eye, I don't think anyone knows how long that takes."

Up Next


When: Saturday, 7:30.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 980, 1330.

Records: Hawks 33-28, Clippers 40-20.

Record vs. Hawks: 1-0.

Update: The Clippers won an ugly, low-scoring game against the Hawks when the teams played in Atlanta in late January, and the wouldn't mind replicating that scenario on their home court. "You know when you play them, it's 24 seconds of defense," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. "They'll score quick, but if they don't, very similar to San Antonio, they just keep moving the ball. You have to be really disciplined against them defensively or they'll beat you."

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch