If the Sixers spent their practice yesterday ironing out their pick-and-roll defense, as they should have, tonight their work will be put to the test. Tony Parker was brilliant on Wednesday, but he's clearly a rung or two below Chris Paul on the PG ladder. Paul has been beyond brilliant in his first 18 games with the Clippers, and he has a couple of elite finishers to set up if the Sixers leave any creases open.
The scary thing about facing CP3 as opposed to Parker is that CP3 can really shoot from anywhere on the floor. He's hitting threes at 47%, Long twos at 48%. You can't go under against him or he'll pick you apart. You can't double him or he'll find the bigs for a dunk. The best result you can really hope for is Blake Griffin to "pop" instead of "roll." Griffin will take (and miss) a lot of long twos. Someone told him he needs to add that to his game, and thankfully, he's obliged. Any possession that ends with a Blake Griffin 18-footer is a win, make or miss.
Last season, the Sixers had a lot of success against Griffin. Basically, Elton Brand pushed him around and fouled him hard whenever he went to take off for a monster dunk. I expect to see more of the same tonight. Brand needs to keep Griffin in front of him, because if another big has to come to cover up, you're leaving the lane wide open for DeAndre Jordan to grab offensive boards, or get lobs for dunks. Force Griffin out on the floor and see if you can entice him to shoot jumpers. Whenever he gets within dunking range of the hoop, put a hard foul on him and make him earn the points on the line (he's shooting a pitiful 52.7% from the line).
Guarding CP3 is really a battle of attrition. Paul will dribble the ball all over the floor for nearly the entire shot clock, probing the lane, testing the defense, looking to create opportunities for his teammates, then if he doesn't find anything, he'll just create space and knock down a jumper as the shot clock expires. He's pretty much unstoppable, and Jrue is going to have his hands full all night. The Sixers are going to have to change up their approach on him throughout the night. If you get the chance to blitz him with a trap without leaving anyone wide open, do it. When he's dribbling through the lane under the hoop, try to cut off the baseline. Jrue needs to be close enough to him in isolation to be able to challenge his jumpers, which is easier said than done.
If you're banking on stopping Paul to win the game, you're going to lose. The key to this game is going to be limiting the open looks from three for their shooters (Mo Williams and Randy Foye are both shooting above average from deep, Caron Butler is slightly below, but more than capable of hurting you). The Clippers' offense is very, very good. Fortunately, their defense is very, very bad.
Paul is a ball hawk, Jrue needs to take ball security very seriously. The Sixers really need to attack the Clips at two positions: PF and SG. Blake Griffin makes the top ten plays every night, but it's never for his defense. He's a sieve. The only thing you need to be wary of is his propensity to flop. If you breath on him, he throws himself on the floor and then starts whining to the refs if he doesn't get a whistle. Brand can back him down and shoot over him. Smalls can drive right at him. It'll help if the Sixers' centers can draw DeAndre Jordan out of the lane before the drives occur, though. Jordan is possibly the best weak-side shotblocker in the league.
At shooting guard, Foye and Mo William are both undersized. Jrue and Turner should both look to go to the post tonight, their size is a big advantage.
The wildcard on the defensive end is Kenyon Martin. He's a smart, active defender with some bulk. Brand should be able to shoot over him. It'll be interesting to see if the Clippers start with Jordan on Brand (his length will bother EB), or if they switch that matchup if EB gets off to a hot start.
One final point, the Sixers need to limit their live-ball turnovers tonight. The Clips feed off their highlight reel dunks, those happen mostly in transition and they're always looking for the steal to spring their break. Make the simple passes, move the ball from side to side, and this defense will crumble. Just be patient and work for good shots. The Clips haven't been able to stop anyone all year, just don't give them free points by getting caught up in their game on the other end and coughing the ball up.
The tip is at 7pm. Game thread will land at 5.