There was a good chance the West would cruelly pit two of its best against each other, Joker-style, in the first round. Thanks to the way things shook out on the last day of the regular season, it ended up being our Spurs dropping from second to sixth and being sent to the Staples Center to face the league's most potent offense, the LA Clippers. It's the series many are considering to be the most compelling and competitive of the first round -- with good reason.
Both teams finished the regular season hot as their rosters returned to full strength, the Clippers winning 14 of their last 15 and the Spurs 21 of 25. Only one game separated the two in the standings, LA sporting the league's best offense and San Antonio the second-best defense. They also split their season series, 2-2, with the only lop-sided affair being the January 31st meeting in the T, which LA won by 20.
The Clippers will hope the series resembles that game, which took place during the Spurs' most inconsistent stretch of the regular season. In it they failed to manage the tempo, execute offensively and contain Blake Griffin, who ran wild -- sometimes literally -- en route to a 31-13-5 stat line. The Spurs will no doubt show more effort and concentration now; that, matched with the motion offense clicking and Kawhi Leonard fully locked in, makes this a completely different team than its January iteration.
Partially because LA has failed so miserably in filling the bench with a strong supporting cast, it feels like the Spurs have faced the same squad for five years. That bench is once again terrible, save Jamal Crawford's ability to anchor the second unit's offense, and the familiarity between the teams' respective stars will mean that other intangibles might make the difference.
Just as Doc Rivers will prepare aptly for the Big Four, Pop already knows what he's facing in Blake Griffin's athleticism and versatility and Chris Paul's herky-jeryky wiliness. It could be a few vaunted role players that have just as big a say in how things turn out.
Danny Green's been terrific all year and Pop will be asking for more of the same from him: getting to his spots and letting it fly, locking down his guy defensively and helping out on the glass. He may also see his share of time on Chris Paul.
Referring to DeAndre Jordan as a role player might be using the term a bit liberally after this season, but it's not meant in a negative way: DJ is a very talented guy who's wholly accepted the assignment of doing a few things very well. He rebounds, blocks shots, and only shoots the ball if he's able to do a pull-up on the rim at the same time. He's an ideal help defender, because of his stupid length, to nullify shots by guys like Tony Parker, and he's also improved at holding his ground when Tim Duncan posts him up.
The Spurs will pull Jordan away from the basket as much as possible, and the results when he can get completely taken out of a play are, not surprisingly, positive:
And then there's the free-throw shooting, which will receive media scrutiny early and often, given Pop's propensity for hacking abysmal shooters like Jordan (who shot 39.7% this year). The stats brains at Five Thirty Eight looked at the virtues (or lack thereof) in intentionally putting the Clippers center on the line a while back. I'm not sure if I agree with all the points, and Jordan's FT percentage has dipped (don't ask me how) since they ran those numbers, but it's at least some good food for thought. Either way, it's likely to be a big factor in this series, starting tonight.
Both Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner are currently listed as questionable, which could leave the frontcourt rotation uncomfortably thin (and, consequently, limit the Hack-a-DeAndre strategy). Aron Baynes started the last game against LA, so I've penciled him into the starting lineup for this one.
It's always a challenge going into someone's house and taking the first game of a series. But the pressure will be on LA tonight to not give away homecourt advantage. The disparity in the benches also gives the Spurs a slightly greater margin for error, while we might happen to see Kawhi do to Chris Paul what he did to Stephen Curry a few weeks ago.
I could talk myself into a scenario in which Paul completely locks down Parker, Jordan owns the offensive glass and J.J. Redick goes for 20 --but what's the fun in that?
Matchup to watch: Tony Parker vs. Chris Paul. Parker doesn't need to cancel out Paul's numbers. But he does need to make him work on the other end and make things happen for the Spurs offense. CP3 will be as motivated as anyone on either side, and he'll look to carry as much a load as possible for LA. The more effort he has to exert, the better things are for the Spurs -- tonight and for the rest of the series.
|Game 1, Western Conference 1st Round, 2015 NBA Playoffs|
|April 13, 2015|
|Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA|
|9:30 pm CST|
|TV: TNT - Radio: 1200 WOAI|
|Tony Parker||PG||Chris Paul|
|Danny Green||SG||J.J. Redick|
|Kawhi Leonard||SF||Matt Barnes|
|Tim Duncan||PF||Blake Griffin|
|Aron Baynes||C||DeAndre Jordan|
|93.8 (17th)||Pace||94.7 (10th)|
|108.5 (7th)||ORtg||112.4 (1st)|
|102.4 (2nd)||DRtg||105.5 (15th)|
The perspective of Clippers fans can be found here: Clips Nation.
Game Prediction: Spurs by 5.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and you can get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment:
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