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The Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick-and-roll is a nightmare

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The Thunder know how dangerous it can be when you take two of the NBA's best players and put them together in a pick-and-roll. Don't forget DeAndre Jordan, either.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers had the league's most dangerous offense in the regular season, leading the league in offensive rating with 107.9 points per 100 possessions, and that offense is on full display in the second round of this year's playoffs. In three games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, they've put up an average of 111.7 points. The Thunder are a normally stingy defense, but the Clippers can just Point God and Lob City their way through it.

One of the staples of the Clipper offense is a pick-and-roll featuring Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. You can imagine how deadly a play can be when you complement Griffin's athleticism with the attention Paul demands, and I don't think I have to remind anyone that Paul has the NBA Jam fire-hands going on in this series. He's shooting 60.5% from the field and making four threes per game on 60.0% shooting from downtown. When defenses are overly worried about Paul, attention gets shifted away elsewhere.

The most dangerous outcome isn't Griffin being left open, because Griffin is also a top-10 player in the NBA like Paul. If his defender moves off him, it's natural for another defender to come over. The main problem with the Paul/Griffin pick-and-roll isn't one of those two guys scoring, but instead an alley-oop dunk for DeAndre Jordan.

The Thunder like to play the Clippers' pick-and-roll aggressively with a trap or hard show on Paul. Westbrook is slow to navigate around screens, and the Thunder will make up for it by taking advantage of their mobility most of their big men have in defending the perimeter. In these situations, Griffin will answer by slipping the screen quickly to create a power-play situation in front of him:


All Jordan has to do on these sets is lurk near the rim and wait for Griffin to draw his man over. It's become such a regular play for these guys that Griffin instinctively flips the ball up to Jordan as soon as the defender comes over. Lest we forget, Jordan is good at the jumping high and dunking thing too. Perk doesn't even fully commit to Griffin here, but he gives Jordan enough space to go up, which is all he needs to finish the play.


In comparison to the work he did against the Golden State Warriors in the first round, DeAndre Jordan is struggling overall in this series. In Game 1, Jordan only made three shots – but all of them were alley-oop dunks assisted by Griffin out of a pick-and-roll.

Of course, Scott Brooks has adjusted to deal with this. Instead of playing into the Clippers' hands by defending the pick-and-roll so aggressively, the Thunder have started to sag their coverage towards the paint a bit more. The defending big man is watching out for further Griffin abuse, and the 4-on-3 scenario with two defenders caught on Paul behind the play ends up eliminated.

They've overthought it now, because doing this gives leash to the original threat. In the same way that they put attention on Paul by shifting it off Griffin, now they're putting attention on Griffin by shifting it off Paul. At the start of the series, Paul was pulling up haphazardly to sink whatever long three he wanted to take. Now, with the defense sagging to account for a rolling Griffin, Paul gets extra opportunities to pull up against a more conservative pick-and-roll coverage. A pull-up jumper is less dangerous than an alley-oop dunk, but right now, Paul isn't missing many shots.


There's not a clear answer to defending this play. Griffin is so talented that the Clippers have options beyond Paul pulling up and Griffin lobbing it up to Jordan. They've mixed in pick-and-pops for Griffin, and more shenanigans can happen if Paul disengages from the pick-and-roll on a show, allowing Griffin to post up Paul's original defender. The ball can zip from location to location because of Paul and Griffin's passing ability, and it's proven extremely difficult to contain.

The Thunder may try defending Griffin with Kevin Durant, which is something they tried in the series against the Memphis Grizzlies when Durant defended high-post artist Marc Gasol. Durant has the length and athleticism to keep up and challenge the Paul/Griffin pick-and-roll, and his arms are stretchy enough to dissuade the slip pass to Griffin. However, the Clippers can attack this defensive matchup in a different way by bringing Griffin to the post and letting him loose on Durant down low.

Another way to defend this play might simply be to sacrifice coverage on the Clippers' floor-stretchers to crowd the interior. Apart from Paul's contributions, the Clippers have shot 30.6% from three in this series. It's a small sample size for sure, but J.J. Redick (40.0% through three games) might be the Clippers' only truly dangerous spot-up threat. The other starter at the wing, Matt Barnes, has a pretty tough three-point shot to watch. He shot 34.3% from three in the regular season, and is down to 30.0% in this series. Jamal Crawford, sometimes dangerous from deep but extremely inconsistent, has shot 27.8% in this series off the bench.

It plays to the Thunder's defensive scheme for their defenders to sink into the paint and put bodies in the lane. We know they have the arms and athleticism to recover to shooters on the outside. It's a much more friendly bet to force the Clippers to win by sinking outside shots instead of allowing Paul, Griffin and Jordan to run amok down the middle of the court out of the pick-and-roll.