Clippers Vs. Spurs - Western Conference Semis - Game 2 Preview

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 15: Eric Bledsoe #12 of the Los Angeles Clippers leans over to catch his breath during a break in the action against the San Antonio Spurs in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 15, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. The Spurs defeated the Clippers 108-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
2011/2012 NBA Playoffs - WC Semis - Game 2
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vs.
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40-26

50-16
Spurs Lead Series 1-0
Game 1 - May 15th, 2012, in San Antonio, Spurs 108, Clippers 92
Game 2 - May 17th, 2012, 6:30 PM, San Antonio, AT&T Center
Game 3 - May 19th, 2012, 12:30 PM, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 4 - May 20th, 2012, 7:30 PM, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 5 - May 22nd, 2012, TBD, San Antonio, AT&T Center *
Game 6 - May 25th, 2012, TBD, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center *
Game 7 - May 27th, 2012, TBD, San Antonio, AT&T Center *
* if necessary
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Tony Parker
Randy Foye SG Danny Green
Caron Butler
SF Kawhi Leonard
Blake Griffin
PF Boris Diaw
DeAndre Jordan
C Tim Duncan
Key reserves:
Eric Bledsoe
PG Gary Neal
Mo Williams SG Manu Ginobili
Nick Young
SF Stephen Jackson
Reggie Evans
PF Matt Bonner
DeJuan Blair
Kenyon Martin
C Tiago Splitter

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

After a Game 1 loss in which the Spurs were playing on eight days rest while the Clippers were turning around two days after a draining Game 7 win in Memphis, tonight we get to see how these teams look with the same number of rest days. Don't get me wrong -- the Spurs will still be fresher (two games in 10 days versus the Clippers seven days in 13 days) and the Spurs are still the better team, but fresh legs should be less of an issue. The Clippers know what they need to do better after the Game 1 loss: they need to rotate to shooters and defend the three point line better (or alternatively to cross their fingers and hope that the Spurs miss a few more shots) and they need to rebound better. They also need to make more shots, but that will probably take care of itself -- Chris Paul is not likely to miss nine makeable shots in a row again. Among the things that they did well in the first game -- they need to continue to keep Tony Parker under wraps, and they need to get Eric Bledsoe onto the floor. Be sure to check out the Series Preview; most of it still applies. However, there are some major new storylines to check out below.

The Subplots

  • Key Spurs Metrics:
    Pace: 92.9 (7th of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 110.9 (1st of 30)
    Def Rtg: 103.2 (10th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics:
    Pace: 89.2 (27th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.5 (4th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.7 (18th of 30)
  • Fifteen straight, five straight. The Spurs have won 15 in a row overall and are 5-0 in the playoffs. More amazing than the wins themselves is that they've all been comfortable. The Spurs smallest margin of victory in games where Parker, Duncan and Ginobili have played over the last five weeks was eight over Utah in Game 4 of that series -- and they led by 21 in that one in the fourth quarter before a furious Jazz rally that was too little too late. It has been over five weeks since the Spurs lost, but more to the point, it's been that long since they played even a mediocre game. And it's been six weeks since they've played a close game. All teams come out flat from time to time, have a bad shooting night, just don't have it for whatever reason. For the Spurs that hasn't happened since April 11 against the Lakers. It's beginning to feel like it may never happen again.
  • The comeback. As they have done throughout the playoffs, the Clippers mounted a comeback in Game 1. Trailing by 18 after a Stephen Jackson three pointer opened the fourth quarter scoring, they went on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to eight with almost nine minutes left. Unfortunately, they proceeded to miss 11 of their next 12 shots before throwing in the towel. Chris Paul was 0-4 in the fourth, mostly on shots he makes, mostly on shots that were halfway down before they popped back out. The Clippers played well in the fourth quarter on Tuesday -- they just couldn't shoot.
  • Bledsoe. Eric Bledsoe led the Clippers with 23 points on Tuesday and was easily L.A.'s best player in Game 1. That's not going to happen every game, but it's not a fluke that he played well. In the series preview I said he'd be a key for the Clippers, and he made me look good in Game 1. He's the Clippers best perimeter defender, and their best on ball defender. He had three steals on Tuesday. On the entire L.A. roster, Bledsoe is the most capable of defending Parker, and is probably the best choice against Ginobili as well (he defended Manu well on Tuesday). He also has the speed and energy to close out on perimeter shooters, making up in athleticism what he lacks in experience. In general, more Bledsoe please. The fact is, Bledsoe should be starting at shooting guard in place of Randy Foye. I doubt we'll see that, but the team would clearly be better off.
  • Small ball. The Clippers fourth quarter run came with a lineup of Paul, Mo Williams, Bledsoe, Nick Young and Kenyon Martin on the floor. It was a combination borne of desperation, but it's interesting that it had some success. Bledsoe was the Clippers best player on Tuesday, and while he may not shoot like he did Tuesday every game, he needs to play big minutes in this series. Or course Paul needs to play big minutes also, and it becomes difficult to find enough minutes for everyone without going small at times. What's interesting is that the Spurs small forwards didn't punish the Clippers for playing three guys around 6'0". Can Kawhi Leonard post up? He was a much bigger threat spotting up on Tuesday. Vinny Del Negro has always had a weakness for three guard lineups (and this was practically a four guard lineup with Young playing the four) -- look for him to do it more as the series goes on.
  • Griffin versus Diaw. Boris Diaw has always been a surprisingly good post defender, but I refuse to believe that Griffin should be as useless against him as he was in Game 1. Of Griffin's seven field goals Tuesday, none came from isolation post moves. If Diaw can continue to contain Griffin like that (and who knows how much his sprained knee is affecting him) the Clippers have no chance in this series.
  • Griffin to Jordan. Late in the first quarter Tuesday, Griffin assisted DeAndre Jordan for a dunk. It was a simple play, and one I've long thought could be bread-and-butter for the Clipper bigs. Basically, off the pick and roll, when Griffin makes the catch, in many cases the other big (i.e. the player defending Jordan) rotates to cut off Blake. In that situation, a quick pass on the catch will almost always find Jordan available at the rim, as it did in this case. Pau Gasol to Andrew Bynum is the best example of this kind of play. Blake isn't the intuitive passer that Gasol is, but he's pretty good, and I've long wondered why the Clippers were not able to work this action more successfully. In fact, Diaw-to-Duncan (or Duncan-to-Diaw as the case may be) and MGasol-to-Randolph are below the rim examples of the same action -- catch the bigs in rotation, make the immediate pass, you get a layup. It's even easier to throw it to the rim for a Bynum or a Jordan, and I'd love to see the Clippers do it more often. As it happens, in the second half Tuesday the same opportunity presented itself, but Griffin hesitated, telegraphed the pass and got it knocked away.
  • Gregg Popovich, alchemist. When Kawhi Leonard was still available at the 15th pick, it surprised a lot of people. (Had the Clippers not traded their draft pick to Cleveland, and had it wound up around eighth as their record would have indicated, Leonard would have been my choice for L.A.) When the Spurs traded for him, giving up a very nice player in George Hill, a lot of people suspected that R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich knew what they were doing. Coming out of college, Leonard had all the tools to be a great NBA defender right away -- he's long, he's quick, he's tenacious. But who knew the guy could shoot? In 70 college games at San Diego State, from a shorter three point line, on a team that desperately needed his scoring, Leonard made 41 three pointers in 164 attempts -- 25%. In 69 NBA games including 5 playoff games, he has made 48 three pointers in 122 attempts -- 39%. That doesn't happen. 25% college three point shooters don't turn into 40% NBA three point shooters as rookies. There's only one logical explanation. Gregg Popovich is a alchemist, turning lumps of NBA lead into gold.
  • Home court advantage. The Clippers have to win at least one game in San Antonio to win the series. They didn't do it in Game 1, but a Game 2 win is just as good.
  • Getting caught up. The real question with the fatigue is, can the Clippers get caught up? L.A. has played three games while the Spurs were resting, and that's not going to change. Game 2, both teams will be playing on a day's rest -- but it will be seven games in 13 days for the Clippers, two games in 9 days for the Spurs. At some point, the older legs of the Spurs may start to feel the pace of the series (the teams play back-to-back games in L.A. this weekend), but the simple fact is that the Clippers are starting off in a hole.
  • Defending Paul. The Spurs started the game with Tony Parker defending Chris Paul. However, as the game wore on they moved Danny Green, and eventually Kawhi Leonard onto Paul, putting more and more length on him. It seemed to work on the surface -- Paul was 3-4 in the first quarter, 0-9 the rest of the way. However speaking as a person who's watched a lot of Chris Paul this season, neither Green nor Leonard was really stopping him -- he consistently got where he wanted, got the shots he wanted to get -- he just missed them.
  • Hack-a-Clipper. Gregg Popovich is the king of the hack strategy. You can fully expect the Spurs to put Clipper bigs on the line in certain situations throughout this series. He'll always have plenty to choose from, as L.A.'s entire big rotation is terrible from the line. In Game 1, Pop fouled KMart at the end of the first quarter, to take the Clippers' two-for-one and flip it to the Spurs advantage. It backfired though, as Martin made both free throws, and the Spurs then left enough time on the clock for Paul to score at the first quarter buzzer.
  • Compare and contrast. As I wrote yesterday for SBNation NBA, the Clippers have got to completely shift their defensive philosophy against the Spurs after the seven game series with the Grizzlies. The big, obvious difference is the three point shooting, were Memphis was among the worst in the league while San Antonio is the very best. Allowing a Spurs playoff record 13 threes in Game 1 was disastrous, and you don't have to look much further to know what the Clippers lost. As long as they lose the three point line, they will not win this series.
  • Get the Spurs perspective at Pounding the Rock.
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