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The Clippers's aggressive defense might cost them in San Antonio

The difference between how well San Antonio shoots at home and on the road this season has been night and day. If the Clippers' defense doesn't adjust to account for it, they might get exposed in the AT&T Center.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs accomplished what they set out to do in Los Angeles and won one on the road. It wasn't always pretty but the series is tied and now the Spurs are heading home. It's hard to overstate how much that means for San Antonio's offense.

The Spurs were 33-8 at home compared to just 22-19 on the road and averaged almost eight points more per 100 possessions. There is something about playing in the AT&T Center that makes everything click. If the season-long trend sustains, that could be horrible news for the Los Angeles Clippers and their defensive plan.

Danny Green's shooting could return

The Clippers like to trap the ball handler to make him get rid of the ball. Then they clog the lane and dare the Spurs to hit jump shots. This defensive tactic has been quite effective in the first two games because the Spurs have shot only 31 percent from three. It was a good gamble because the Spurs have shot terribly on the road all season long, especially designated marksman Danny Green.

Danny Green's road woes












The difference in efficiency at home vs. on the road is stark for Danny Green, and by extension, the Spurs' offense. If Green is hitting shots, the passing lanes become bigger and the driving lanes open up for a player like Tony Parker. Since January, in games where Danny Green made five field goals or more, the Spurs are 8-1. His shooting seems to have a team-wide positive effect.

Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, and Marco Belinelli have all shot better in San Antonio as well. The Clippers have been able to survive on defense despite occasionally leaving shooters open in the Staples Center. Now, failing to bother or deter outside shots could really hurt them. Which is a huge problem for them because...

Exhaustion might cause costly breakdowns

The Clippers' trapping leaves the defense playing three-on-four often, which can lead to leaving shooters open. So far they have been able to recover more often than not.

All the switching and scrambling that happens on defense for Los Angeles, however, puts a lot of pressure on defenders to always stay ahead of the Spurs' ball movement or risk breakdowns. You take that chance if you're Doc Rivers because of how bad San Antonio has been on the road this season and because it might be the only way to disrupt their offensive flow.

Yet because it's such a taxing strategy, it's hard to sustain. The difference in defensive hustle from game to game was reflected not only in the Spurs' shooting percentages (36.6 percent in game one vs. 42 percent in game two) but by a decrease in how many shots the Clippers contested.

In Game 1, the Spurs were either open (defender 4-6 feet away) or wide open (6+ feet away) 36.5 percent of the time. That number is well below the Spurs regular season average of 45.6 percent. That changed in Game 2, where the Spurs took open shots 44 percent of the time. It's possible the Clippers were simply too tired to be as precise as on the first matchup.

If their bench doesn't allow Rivers to rest his starters without hemorrhaging points-- which is unlikely, considering it's been a weakness all season long-- their defense could get sloppier. At home that wouldn't be such a huge problem because the Spurs tend to miss even open looks. On the road, it could be deadly.

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It wouldn't be surprising to see the Clippers go with a more conservative defensive approach in Games 3 and 4 in order to minimize fatigue and the open looks it might lead to for San Antonio's outside threats. The Spurs shoot so much better at home that the risk of continuing to play such an aggressive style of defense might be too high. Whether the 15th ranked Clippers defense can get enough stops without flying around the court with the frantic energy they displayed in Los Angeles remains to be seen.