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Bad transition defense could doom the Spurs against the Clippers

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The Spurs can't let their cross-matching result in easy transition buckets for the Clippers.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers played each other, it was February 19th, the Spurs were in the middle of the Rodeo Road Trip, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker were becoming frustrating to watch and it appeared the Spurs might not even make the playoffs.

Watching that game again, it is like watching (*warning cliché*) an entirely different team. The Spurs just were not Spursing. The ball was sticking more often than usual. Kawhi Leonard made one shot all night. Tim Duncan was doing far too much for a team in which he was supposed to be the third option. This was also the infamous Hack-a-Deandre game when he shot 28 free throws and only made 10 of them.

Even after accepting that it was a weird night and with the knowledge of what happens after the RRT, there are aspects of that game that have taught us some lessons about potential problems the Spurs might have against the Clippers, namely on the defensive end.

Who Guards Who?

It all starts with the need to cross-match. Good offensive point guards aren't typically a big issue for the Spurs, since they have Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard to take turns guarding them. The biggest question is who will Tony Parker defend.

The matchups that make the most sense to me would be the following.

Spurs

Clippers

Tony Parker

Matt Barnes

Danny Green

J.J. Reddick/Jamal Crawford

Kawhi Leonard

Chris Paul

Tim Duncan

Deandre Jordan

Tiago Splitter

Blake Griffin

Barnes is the Clippers' least intimidating offensive threat, averaging only 10 points a game and shooting 36.2% from beyond the arc. He's also a low usage spot up shooter who won't likely try to post up Parker and won't run him through screens.

Danny Green has the length to disturb Reddick's jumpers and is good chasing shooters through off-ball screens. He is also a good one-on-one defender who can stay with Crawford.

Leonard on CP3 makes the most logical sense, since he's the team's best perimeter defender. Putting Tim Duncan on DeAndre allows him to protect the rim and rebound, while Splitter on Griffin puts the most versatile defender on the better all-around offensive player.

If Tiago ends up missing a few games during this series, that could mean trouble. Boris Diaw and Aron Baynes have the ability to bump Griffin down low, but Blake is far too quick and explosive off the dribble for either to have much of a chance to stop him in the perimeter. In this scenario, Pop would have to consider moving Duncan onto Griffin just because he has the veteran savvy and length to try to slow him down.

Cross-matching can't affect transition defense

Against such a good half court offensive team, surrendering fastbreak points is a death sentence. In their last regular season matchup, the Spurs allowed 19 points in transition, which are obviously too many. The problem is that a large part of the Spurs’ poor transition defense had to do with their cross-matching.

TRD1

When Kawhi Leonard gambled for the steal in the above play, it threw a wrench into the Spurs’ defensive assignments. Danny Green and Aron Baynes both recognize that Kawhi is going to be behind on the play, so they both step up to defend Chris Paul.

This forces Tim Duncan to step out on what would be Danny Green’s man, leaving a wide open paint and a mismatch of Aron Baynes on Chris Paul on the perimeter. This setup is a lose-lose. If Baynes closes out completely, Paul can easily blow by him for an easy two points. Baynes takes the chance of Paul missing a three, and it costs the Spurs.

TRD2

The second play is another example of when cross-matching on transition defense sets up for poor execution. J.J. Reddick was defending Leonard on the offensive end of the floor, but Kawhi is supposed to defend Chris Paul. As soon as Paul gets the ball, Leonard leaves Reddick to go find his man.

Danny Green chased the man defending him, Matt Barnes, during this play. He recognizes too late that nobody is behind to defend the cherry-pick, so Reddick gets the easy two points. The Spurs have to be able to pick up the open players in transition if they want to be able to cross-match.

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In such a close matchup of teams, San Antonio is going to have to be extremely solid on the defensive end. With a battle of coaches of this caliber, this series promises to be a chess match, especially with so many good offensive players on both ends.