The Spursmobile wheezed, sputtered and stalled coming out the gate to commence the 2015 Playoffs, looking unlike the well-oiled machine it had appeared the last month of the regular season. Alongside it at the starting line was a newer, red-and-blue model, whose muscle might finally be matching its long-regarded sheen.
Inside a Staples Center that could've been mistaken for Oracle Arena by its atmosphere, the Spurs seemed overmatched by LA's younger stars. Blake Griffin may ride Kias into battle when he's off the court, but on the court he resembled something with a few more horses under the hood. He consistently found himself in situations where he had his man more or less one on one, and that's a scenario that will usually have but one outcome for San Antonio -- especially if Tiago Splitter is not that man.
And then there's Chris Paul, who showed why he's every bit a top-five MVP candidate this season. He's the reason Griffin often found himself in advantageous positions, and the sight of the diminutive point guard coming around a pick and roll will justifiably incite anxiety in Spurs fans every time it happens. He outshone Tony Parker in every way and, for good measure, laid a dubiously incidental knee into the Frenchman's leg trying to go through a screen.
Parker's obviously not 100%, and that's a problem. It's no coincidence that the Spurs offense finally looked like itself this season when he did and, even with Kawhi playing out of his mind, this team can't produce at the same level without Tony. Tiago's health will also loom over the Spurs once again. When near full strength, he stifles pick and rolls better than anyone in a black jersey. But Splitter didn't look himself in Game 1, and it's hard to know what to expect after three days' rest.
Really though, this series is still in San Antonio's hands. There are adjustments to be made on both sides of the ball, and it's always a plus when the man making them is Gregg Popovich.
More shots will fall tonight -- certainly from the free-throw line. The impact that has on the way the offense flows could be enough itself to put the Spurs over the top tonight, but the Spurs coach won't leave it at that of course.
San Antonio will need to be ready for more double-teams (and perhaps false ones) thrown at Kawhi tonight. He wasn't decisive when pressured in Game 1 and it often ended with a bad shot late in the shot clock. Selective traps and different defensive looks will be a part of Doc's scheme, but hard cuts and good passing should win out.
The Spurs can also improve their transition defense. Some of that, again, will come naturally by limiting turnovers (15 last game) and hitting the offensive glass less. But it'll certainly be something Pop will have discussed earlier this week, and I expect the first Hail Mary pass that results in a Clippers bucket will be followed by an unpleasant timeout.
The defensive strategy to contain Paul will change in Game 2 -- it has to. If I knew precisely what that was going to be, I'd be a late-night psychic (and if I claimed to be, I could probably still get a job with the Sacramento Kings). But I'd be surprised to see Tony start on him again tonight. The experiment with Kawhi defending CP3 didn't last long, nor did it look particularly good, but I'd be willing to give it another early go to see if there's anything to it. If Kawhi gives Paul a little more space than he did previously, he could make up for Paul's speed advantage and still be able to close in on any shots from deep using his length.
There are reasons to be skeptical: legitimate health concerns, a disadvantage at the most important position in the game, and an opponent strategy that's making the most of both. But as always, there are also reasons to be optimistic -- optimistic that Danny Green will find his stroke again, that Jamal Crawford's will regress to what it had been, and that one particular Spur will find it in his amiable, Australian affection to put a Clipper on his damn behind the next time he gets challenged for possession or met at the rim.
Oh, and there's this:
The Spurs also lost their first playoff game in 2003, 2005 and 2007. They won the championship each of those seasons.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2015
Go Spurs go.
Matchup to watch: Chris Paul vs...
|Game 2, Western Conference 1st Round, 2015 NBA Playoffs|
|April 22, 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|
|Tiago Splitter||PF||Blake Griffin|
|Tim Duncan||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. Let it ride.
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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