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Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs

May 15, 2012, 4:55 PM EDT

Tim Duncan. Blake Griffin AP

SEASON RECORDS

L.A. Clippers: 40-26 (5 seed)
San Antonio 50-16 (1 seed)

SEASON SERIES

Spurs took it 2-1. The Clippers won the most recent game but Tony Parker did not play for San Antonio.

KEY INJURIES

Clippers: Blake Griffin will play but says he is about “75-80 percent” with a sprained left knee. Chris Paul is fighting through what is being called a hip flexor, which could be an aggravation of a groin injury, however he looked just fine in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against Memphis to me. Don’t forget Caron Butler has a broken left hand.

Spurs: No major injuries and they have been resting since roughly Mardi Gras.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)


San Antonio: offense 108.5 (1st); defense 100.6 (10th)
L.A. Clippers: offense 108.5 (4th); defense 105.7 (18th)

THREE KEY SPURS:

Tony Parker: The matchup of this series is Parker against Chris Paul, two of the best point guards in the game going head-to-head. In the two meetings against each other this season, Parker outplayed Paul, if he does in this series it’s over quickly. The Spurs are an offensive power (best in the NBA this year) because they get their shots at the rim or on good look threes more than any other team out there — Parker is the guy who needs to create that. The Spurs should score. The other test for Parker and the Spurs is pick-and-roll defense, because pretty much every page of Vinny Del Negro’s playbook is a variation of the P&R.

DeJuan Blair: Here’s the thing (pointed out by Zach Lowe at SI), the Spurs tend to put Blair on Blake Griffin and hide Duncan on DeAndre Jordan or whoever is playing center for the Clippers. Griffin is the one brutal matchup problem for the Spurs but he is not 100 percent. If Blair and Matt Bonner can keep Griffin in check (or in foul trouble by working him on the offensive end) the Spurs chances go way up.

Manu Ginobili: Expect him to be raining down corner threes on the Clippers all series long — Los Angeles doesn’t defend it well and the Spurs live by it. He’s also just a matchup problem because the Clippers don’t have a bench guy who can match him, plus Ginobili can do pretty much everything well so he just takes what you give him. Also, under/over of two Euro-step moves a game.

THREE KEY CLIPPERS:

Chris Paul: He is the beating heart Clippers right now, he is what makes them go. If he is not at 100 percent it will be difficult for Los Angeles. The Spurs big men are not great at defending the pick-and-roll and CP3 is going to have to make them pay for that, both by getting himself good looks and finding Jordan or Griffin for the alley-oop when Duncan slides over to help. Paul took over in close games against Memphis and he’s going to have to do that in this series — and do it against Tony Parker. Plus he needs to defend Parker well.

Blake Griffin: San Antonio doesn’t really have anyone who can stop him on the block. I know a bunch of Spurs fans just said “but all he can do is dunk,” this is you’re mostly wrong. Griffin has good footwork and can spin and drive for dunks, he’ll face up and go around you, he has a running hook in the lane and if you double him is a surprisingly good passer out of it. He’s better than you think. (Besides, the dunk is the most efficient shot in basketball, if you tell me all a guy can do is dunk but he’s athletic enough to get to the rim and do it five or more times every game, any coach will take that. Including Popovich.) Griffin is banged up but he has to exploit the defense for the Clippers to hang in these games.

DeAndre Jordan: If there is one thing that bothers the Spurs, it’s an active, athletics big man scoring points. DeAndre Jordan can be that guy — he was just nothing like that in the first round when he was often benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Reggie Evans. Jordan is going to have Duncan on him and needs to make the Spurs pay when Duncan leaves him to slide into the paint and protect against the slashing Paul. Also, the Spurs get a lot of their points at the rim and Jordan needs to defend this.

OUTLOOK

Consider this the anti Sixers/Celtics series — both of these teams can score and both struggle to consistently stop what the other team does well. Here are a couple specific areas to watch.

• The Spurs and the corner three. The Spurs live by this shot, it is at the heart of what they want to do on offense, while the Clippers were the third worst team in the league at defending the arc this year (teams shot 36.5 percent against them). In their three meetings this season, the Spurs shot 48 percent from the corner specifically, up from their season average of 41 percent. If Bonner and Ginobili get to rain down threes from there with impunity, the Clippers are in trouble.

• The Spurs going to the rim. This is the other thing the Spurs do well, both through Tony Parker penetration and just good ball movement — they get shots at the rim. The Clippers, with the athletic Griffin and Jordan, do a good job forcing teams out of the paint and do not give up a lot of easy buckets. If the Spurs still get the looks they want the Clippers are in trouble.

• Battle of the benches. The Spurs are not three old guys and a bunch of stiffs any more — Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson give them guys who can contribute in the system. The Spurs keep doing what they do no matter who ins on the floor, they are Terminator relentless. The Clippers bring shooters like Mo Williams and Nick Young, they bring the beard of Reggie Evans, but they don’t bring the same consistency. Someone from the Clippers bench needs to catch fire and steal them a game.

• Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. Yes, I know that is the entire Vinny Del Negro playbook, but it also is the best way to attack the Spurs — expose their bigs lack of athleticism with the play. The Clippers should get looks this way, they should be the faster, more athletic team. Tony Parker is the problem here, but if the Clippers are going to be a threat in this series this is how it happens, because CP3 is the MVP.

• Gregg Popovich vs. Vinny Del Negro. Vinny deserves credit for getting the Clippers out of the first round for only the second time since they moved to the West coast. He’s got them playing better defense. He’s still no Popovich. If it’s close at the end of games the Spurs have the advantage.

PREDICTION

Spurs in 5.

I want to believe in Los Angeles, but this is a tough matchup and the two guys who can change things are banged up (Paul and Griffin). Unlike against Memphis, the Clippers will not win the fourth quarter execution game. The Clippers are a team still learning to win together — Chris Paul has never been out of the second round; Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan are getting their first taste of the playoffs. It’s not that the Clippers are just happy to be here, but they are still learning and when their weaknesses are exposed they do not have the counters yet to fall back on. This is what happens in the playoffs, teams and players learn the hard way what they need to improve to take the steps forward. The Clippers are still learning.

The Spurs know who they are and what they have to do. Someday the guard will change between these teams, but that time is not yet.

  1. spellingcopfather - May 15, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    I see you found a picture of Duncan & Griffin playing Rock-paper-scissors!!!

  2. jimsjam33 - May 15, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    You forgot to mention the Clippers , in one of those two losses , lost in overtime when they actually held the lead in regulation with five seconds to go . The other loss in a three back to back to back situation . The Clippers match up well with the Spurs and you are right , Ginobili is the key . If the three’s aren’t raining the Spurs will lose in five . The Clippers big men will hold Duncan and Blair so it comes down to CP 3 and Parker .
    If Griffin is healthy he goes wild and the Clips win . If Ginobili , Bonner , Leonard and the Spurs core of three point shooters is hot it’s over. This won’t be a sweep for either team and the Clippers displayed some meaness and toughness against Memphis ( un-seen during the course of the regular season .) Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans have no equals off the bench . Clippers advantage . Eric Bledsole is the X-factor . If he distrupts the Spurs offense when Parker is out …advantage Clippers with bench points . Mo Williams , Randy Foye , and Eric Young are instant offense .
    The Spurs have Pop and a solid system . This should be a very intertaining series . It won’t be a cakewalk .

  3. bowwserr - May 15, 2012 at 7:40 PM

    jimsjam33 – The key to this series is not simply Ginobli. It’s the entire Spurs bench. Not only are they not worse than the starting five, some would argue that they’re actually better. Things look to be goin in the Spurs’ direction. They’ve gotten rest, whereas the Clips are emotionally and physically spent (after a downright fantastic, phenomenal series, I might add). The Clips’ advantages are overshadowed by the aftermath of the Grizz, and bruises simply don’t go away overnight. The Clips will fight, and fight hard. But this is a Spurs team looking to make a statement. They, like the Celtics, may be “old.” But they are not yet TOO old.

    Spurs in 5.

  4. savvybynature - May 15, 2012 at 9:10 PM

    Before you preview a series, would be helpful to have actually watched one of the teams in the series play.

    Diaw took Blair’s starting gig before the season was even over. And you made this statement on the heels of saying Richard Jefferson’s 3-point shooting was a key for the Spurs in the first round against the Jazz.

    It’s pretty clear you aren’t qualified to pontificate on the Spurs.

  5. jerdogthompson - May 15, 2012 at 9:52 PM

    I’m hoping for a good showing and the chance to steal one in San antone, give CP & BG some rest and we do have a chance to prevail despite the doomsday merchants & chicken little analysts.

  6. savvybynature - May 16, 2012 at 1:14 AM

    I must have missed the part where Duncan was hiding from Griffin and the Spurs had no answer for Griffin on the block, lmao.

  7. furio2929 - May 16, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    Savvy. I was thinking the same thing when I was reading this story. Looks like the writer got info from family n friends who actually watched the game. Blair on Griffin. What about Diaw?

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