May 20, 2012, 1:11 PM EST
In reality, the Spurs can be looking ahead to their matchup with the Thunder (they match up well).
The Clippers can look at the massive steps this franchise has taken the past two seasons — from league laughing stock to up-and-coming contender on the rise and be proud. They are showcasing the best point guard in the game with Chris Paul and an up-and-coming star like Blake Griffin. They can start to look at what they need to improve on — individually and as a team — to take the next step to title contender.
But first, there is the little matter of closing out this series.
The Clippers are proud, Paul is as fierce and the Clippers will not go quietly. At home in front of a crowd that has rallied behind this team they may have never really thought would be this good. Don’t be shocked if a role player for the Clippers like Nick Young or Eric Bledsoe gets hot and carries them.
The Spurs will come out with their usual efficiency, and they would like to win and get more rest. No need to get into the Xs and Os of how the Spurs execution has the Clippers reeling, you’ve seen it like I have. However, if the Clippers play Game 4 like the first half of Game 3 and take a 24-point lead, don’t be shocked to see Gregg Popovich shut his guys down on a back-to-back and rest them. Not so much for Game 5 but for the next round, where the wildly athletic Thunder await.
What the Clippers have learned this series they need to improve on is defense, although that is tempered with the fact nobody is slowing the Spurs offense right now. Still, the Clipper big men need to be more of a defensive threat. They need to be better individually on the perimeter. They need to rotate better and quicker, to disrupt some of the Spurs actions.
The Clippers also are learning the hard way they need to get to their counters to the Paul pick-and-roll faster. I get that CP3 with you or me setting the screen might still be one of the five best plays in the NBA, but come the playoffs teams take away option one and the Clippers are just learning how to efficiently get points out of their other options. For the Spurs, that is second nature.
In the grand scheme Game 4 will not change the outcome of this series. The Spurs will win, today or in Game 5.
But expect the Clippers to fight. This is a team that sees itself as a contender (I see them now where I saw the Thunder last year, good but a step back of contender status with lessons to learn). They will give the Spurs all they can. That may be enough for Game 4.
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