Since entering the league in 2009, James Harden has been a nightmare for teams to defend. He can shoot, pass, handle the ball, find holes in the defense, and finish after feeling contact. The frequency of his head-snap on a drive to the basket is only topped by the opposing teams’ symbolic collective shoulder shrug when asked how to defend the all-star.
J.J. Redick and the Los Angeles Clippers showed Monday night exactly how to minimize Harden’s advantages and keep him in check. While the best defense is a good offense adage doesn’t always apply to winning championships, it is very appropriate to how the Clippers attacked Harden in their first matchup of the season. By featuring Redick consistently on offense, especially in the first half, L.A. forced Harden to run around multiple screens on each play. His own offense was stymied by Redick’s, and Harden was unable to find any sort of rhythm as a result.
Redick started the game with two jumpers to put the Clippers up 4-0. He had the team’s first three field goals as they went up 7-2. Just two minutes in and Redick already had six of the Clippers’ seven points. Two plays after his third basket, Harden picked up his first foul (9:18 mark of first quarter). The trend would continue throughout the first quarter and first half as the Clippers used Redick just as coach Doc Rivers once did with Ray Allen in Boston. Harden went 1-3 in the first quarter, missing both his three-point attempts, and had zero trips to the free-throw line.
“I’ve always been a guy who bases his game on movement and moving without the ball,” Redick said after the game.
Through four games, Redick is shooting 50 percent from the field. As seen in the image below, he’s showing remarkable balance in both shot location and shot type.
What’s most impressive and relevant to the Clippers is how efficient Redick has been in the opening quarters of games (65.2 % FG). There are very few red circles to be found in his first quarter shot chart so far this season (image below). His efficiency does seem to have a downward trend from quarter one to quarter four, but that is also a result of the team actively searching for Redick more diligently in the first half. Lower field goal percentage in later quarters is understandable when the team has a large-enough lead by the fourth quarter, as a top-tier team like the Clippers often do.
We saw Monday night the offense Doc had envisioned when bringing in shooters like Redick and Jared Dudley. What the fans may not have realized, however, is the constant beating a defender has to take when guarding a player of Redick’s tendencies. As such, his impact on a gamely basis goes well beyond a box score or shot chart.
Photo credit: Zimbio.com