The Spurs, as you're probably aware, have a pretty big game coming up tonight. It feels like the proverbial "must win" as NBA teams that win their first two home games in a best-of-seven series are 219-13 (.944). However, despite the doom-and-gloom of this column, I don't subscribe to a desperate point of view just yet. For one, I generally believe in the cliche that a playoff series doesn't start until someone loses a home game. Also, as Spurs fans we've seen them come back from an 0-2 deficit fairly recently, in the semi-finals against Chris Paul's New Orleans Hornets in 2008, and we've seen them blow a 2-0 lead, in the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder in 2012.
Here are three reasons to remain optimistic, even if the Spurs lose tonight:
1) They're the deeper team.
The Clippers, as we've seen, are basically a six-man team. Doc Rivers plays Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to death, while Jamal Crawford rotates with Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick. Glen Davis and Austin Rivers get some spot minutes, but nothing significant. Fatigue won't be an issue for them early on, but the longer the series goes, the more it will be a factor, especially if each game in the series winds up being close and prevents Rivers from using his reserves. (In this sense the Spurs winning their home games in blowout fashion could actually backfire on them.) By game 6 or 7, I have a hard time imagining that the Clippers will have the same legs to execute their manic switching on defense, to run in transition and to finish off their jumpers. It's just a matter of getting them deep in a series.
2) They're the smarter team.
Gregg Popovich always talks about the Spurs "corporate knowledge" and here we'll see its application. The Spurs have played a million games together, in every situation. Almost everyone on the roster has an above-average basketball I.Q. The more they play somebody, the more they'll individually and collectively figure out their tendencies on either end of the floor and formulate strategies to counter them. Having a deeper roster will also serve them well in this regard. Popovich simply has more options to make adjustments with than Rivers does. Eventually they'll figure out the weak links in the Clippers defense. L.A. finished 15th in defensive rating for a reason, after all.
3) They're the mentally stronger team.
This is not the same thing as being smarter, mind you. It's being more willful, stubborn and focused. The Clippers, as we've seen countless times, are front-runners. They're fine as long as they're leading in games or series. Hand them a loss or two though and they start questioning Rivers, start questioning each other, start questioning themselves. They went up 2-0 on Memphis in the first round in 2013 and lost four straight after that. In a 2-2 series in the semi-finals against OKC last year, Paul threw away the win with a handful of bonehead plays. The Spurs are capable of self-destructing in any one game too, of course, but they've shown time and again they're better about putting such anomalies behind them and moving forward. The longer the series goes, the more they'll have the mental edge and the likelier the Clippers will fold when things get tight.
It won't be the end of the world if the Spurs lose tonight, but if they feel like winning and making all this moot, I certainly won't mind.