May 17, 2012; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) is defended by San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) during the second half in game two of the Western Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center. 105-88. The Spurs won Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE
Two games into their Western Conference Semifinal series the San Antonio Spurs hold a 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers. The final score of the first game was 108-92. The final score of the second game was 105-88. And that feels about right.
The Clippers can play better than they have. Chris Paul, who up until his hip flexor injury was the best player in the entire 2012 NBA playoffs, is averaging 8 points and 6.5 turnovers in the two games. Playing on a sprained knee, had just one rebound Thursday night. It's not unreasonable to expect more production from those two when the series shifts back to Los Angeles this weekend, provided they are physically able to produce.
But it won't really matter if they don't figure out a way to stop the Spurs. Unlike the Memphis series, the Clippers have been unable to sustain any sort of a defensive effort to slow down the San Antonio attack. There's a pretty simple reason for that -- the Spurs are pretty freaking good on offense, much, much better than Memphis, and it's hard to stop them. But if the Clippers don't find a solution, this series will be over quickly.
The Spurs shot 53.2% from the field Thursday night and made 10 more three pointers. Their effective field goal percentage in the game was 59.5%. Their effective field goal percentage in the two games of the series is 58.2%. That's smoking hot -- white hot -- super-model hot. And you can't win allowing that kind of shooting.
It doesn't help matters that 35-year-old-supposedly-in-decline Tim Duncan suddenly looks like 25-year-old-MVP Tim Duncan. Timmay is averaging 22 points and shooting 62% in the series so far. He scored 18 on 9-14 shooting in Game 2, with 14 in the first half, and has been more or less unguardable.
Paul's struggles would be more worrisome if it seemed like the Spurs were doing something particularly clever to stop him and to create turnovers. But let's face it -- the Spurs are known for their top rated offense, and there's not much reason to expect them to have more success defending Paul than, say, the Grizzlies. Paul has simply been out of sorts in the two games, probably owing to the hip flexor. So maybe he'll get things going in Games 3 and 4 -- or maybe he won't. In the four full games he's played since the injury, he's averaging 11.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5 turnovers while shooting 37.5%. In the five games before he was hurt he was averaging 22.6 points, 7.8 assists and 3.4 turnovers while shooting 47%. That's the difference between winning and losing.
The good news, if there is any for the Clippers, is that all they've done so far is lose games they were supposed to lose. As the scene shifts to L.A. they have a chance to gain some confidence, and maybe build some momentum with wins in STAPLES Center. So far the Spurs have been the superior team by a pretty wide margin, but things can change quickly. It's pretty simple: in order to have any chance in this series, the Clippers have to find a way to get Paul and Griffin going, and to get stops, even just every once in a while. If they can't do those things, then the season will end this weekend.