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2015 NBA Playoffs Round 1 Clippers-Spurs Series Preview

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The Clippers start the 2015 playoffs against the 2014 champions, the San Antonio Spurs. It's a brutal first round matchup, pitting a younger and hungrier Clippers squad against an incredibly experienced Spurs team.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
2015 NBA Playoffs
First Round
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vs

spurs logo

56-26

55-27
Series Schedule
Game 1 - Sun April 19, 7:30 p.m., TNT/Prime Ticket, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 2 - Wed April 22, 7:30 p.m., TNT/Prime Ticket, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 3 - Fri April 24, 6:30 p.m., ESPN/Prime Ticket, San Antonio, AT&T Center
Game 4 - Sun April 26, 12:30 p.m., ABC, San Antonio, AT&T Center
Game 5*  Tue April 28, Time TBD, Prime Ticket, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 6*  Thu April 30, Time TBD, Prime Ticket, San Antonio, AT&T Center
Game 7* Sun May 2, Time TBD, Prime Ticket, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
* if necessary
Win-Loss Breakdown
19-11 East 23-7
37-15 West 32-20
30-11 Home 33-8
26-15 Road 22-19
19-22 .500+ 23-19
37-4 .500- 32-8
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Tony Parker
J.J. Redick SG Danny Green
Matt Barnes SF Kawhi Leonard
Blake Griffin PF Tim Duncan
DeAndre Jordan C Tiago Splitter
Key Reserves
Austin Rivers PG Cory Joseph
Jamal Crawford SG Patty Mills
Hedo Turkoglu SF Manu Ginobili
Glen Davis PF Boris Diaw
Spencer Hawes C Aron Baynes
Advanced Stats 2014-2015 Regular Season
96.96 (11th of 30) Pace 95.93 (17th of 30)
109.8 (1st of 30) ORtg 106.2 (7th of 30)
103.0 (15th of 30) DRtg 99.6 (3rd of 30)
Injuries/Other
None
Tiago Splitter (calf) Questionable


Matt Bonner (calf) Questionable

The Back Story (The teams split the season series 2-2):

Date Venue Final

11/10/14 Los Angeles Spurs 89, Clippers 85 Recap Box
12/22/14 San Antonio Spurs 125, Clippers 119 Recap Box
01/21/15 San Antonio Clippers 105, Spurs 85 Recap Box
02/19/15 Los Angeles Clippers 119, Spurs 115 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers won 14 of their last 15 games to finish the season in a tie for the second best record in the Western Conference. Their reward for this remarkable accomplishment is a first round meeting with the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, a team that had won 11 in a row before losing on the last day of the season to drop to the 6 seed. Big things were expected from the Clippers this season, but a lackluster start to the season had pundits jumping off the bandwagon in droves, and somehow the Clippers then went under the radar the rest of the way. In fact, LA finished the season with the best offensive efficiency in the NBA and the second best efficiency differential, but few experts expect much of them this postseason, despite their impressive metrics. Three years ago, in Chris Paul's first season in LA, the Spurs swept the Clippers in the second round, thoroughly outplaying them. The Clippers only have three players left from that team, but it happens to be their Big Three of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Can the Clippers exorcise those demons and get past the Spurs this time? If they don't it will go down as another unsuccessful season for the team and for Paul -- never mind that the Spurs might just be the best team in the NBA right now, it will just be a first round loss to critics. But don't count LA out by any means -- the Clippers have beaten the Spurs twice in a row, including a 20 point win in San Antonio in January. The Spurs have not shown much ability to stop the Clippers this season and this figures to be a very high scoring series.

The Antagonist:

The Spurs made an impressive rise through the NBA standings over the final two months of the season, and got all the way to the second seed -- then they lost on the last night of the season and dropped all the way down to the sixth seed in a matter of hours. There were a lot of factors that contributed to that four seed drop -- a log jam of teams with 55 or 56 wins, and an archaic rule that gives a top four seed to the 51 win Portland Trail Blazer being the primary culprits. San Antonio has always had a knack for effectively prioritizing the postseason over the regular season, and it seems like they are once again playing their best when it counts the most. The Spurs however do seem to (finally) be coming to the end of their own Big Three era, as Manu Ginobili has been hinting that he will retire this summer. (Tim Duncan is still incredibly effective and could very well keep playing.) But even as Ginobili is losing a step, the Spurs have a new superstar in Kawhi Leonard, last season's Finals MVP. Leonard could cause huge headaches for the Clippers on both sides of the floor He's one of the best defenders in the league and he'll try to contain Chris Paul at key points in the series. Meanwhile, his combination of size and skill will create a big problem for the Clippers on the other end.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. For two straight seasons now, the Clippers have been the second best team in the NBA by net efficiency. Unfortunately, they're meeting the third best team in net efficiency in the very first round of the playoffs. The Warriors (net efficiency of +11.4) are head-and-shoulders above everybody in the efficiency stats, but there's also a sizable gap between the Clippers (+6.9) and Spurs (+6.6) and the rest of the West (Portland is at +4.2). It's just a shame these teams are meeting in the first round. The Clippers led the league in offensive efficiency but were in the middle of the pack defensively (they got better as the year went on, but still aren't great). The Spurs have better balance between both sides of the court.
  • Bad memories. Three years ago the Clippers were swept by the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. In addition to that painful memory for Paul, Griffin and Jordan, the Spurs were also the author of another bitter postseason defeat for Chris Paul, when San Antonio overcame a 2-3 series deficit to eliminate CP3's New Orleans Hornets in 2008. That remains the closest the CP3 has come to the Conference Finals.
  • Playoff success. It's amazing how much emphasis is placed on playoff success. The notion that Paul is less great than he is because he hasn't been beyond the second round of the playoffs is just silly. He hasn't been on great teams in many cases; he's been hurt in some cases. But the worst is the suggestion that the last season's OKC loss is somehow his fault, ignoring that the supposed "meltdown" sequence included so many bad calls. If those calls go his way, it's not a meltdown at all. But history forgets things like that.
  • Bang the DJ. Great Smiths lyric, maddening basketball tactic. The Spurs evil genius of a coach, Gregg Popovich, is more evil than genius when he has his team commit intentional fouls against bad free throw shooters, and one of the Clippers' best players just so happens to be the worst foul shooter in the league. Pop will almost certainly use the tactic frequently in this series, which could be good news if it means that the San Antonio coach knows his defense can't stop the Clippers by conventional means. I'm wondering if Doc Rivers will have a shorter leash on DeAndre Jordan in these situations during the playoffs than he did in the regular season, and also wondering if Doc can stagger DJ's minutes differently to minimize the exposure.
  • Can the Spurs stop the Clippers? The Clippers have averaged over 116 points in their last three meetings with the Spurs, two of which were in San Antonio. LA only scored 85 in a November loss, but that lackluster Clippers team is something of a distant memory now, not to mention that they led that game the whole way before missing all of their shots in the final five and a half minutes, with most of the misses being just that, misses, not really great Spurs defense. The Spurs secret weapon will be to put space alien Kawhi Leonard on Chris Paul, but we'll see if they start off that way. Regardless, the athleticism of the Clipper bigs, Paul's mastery of the pick and roll, and the shooters around him, present nightmares for the Spurs which they never really figured out in the regular season. (Popovich has admitted that he chooses to foul Jordan because he doesn't think his defense can stop the Clippers, which isn't exactly a vote of confidence for his team).
  • Can the Clippers match up with Leonard? The Spurs have one of the great "Big Threes" of all time in Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, but the fact is that Kawhi Leonard was the NBA Finals MVP last season and is arguably their best player now. His incredibly valuable on defense, but it also happens that the Clippers don't have any answer for him on the other end. Leonard is bigger and stronger than any of the Clippers wings, and way to quick for Blake Griffin if you were thinking that might be the solution. Matt Barnes isn't a great choice -- but he's so much better than any other choice the Clippers have that Doc Rivers will probably have to keep Barnes in the game whenever Leonard is in. Maybe Hedo Turkoglu can guard him for a few minutes; FSM forbid if Jamal Crawford gets the assignment. The only consolation for the Clippers is that if San Antonio tries to hard to exploit the advantage, running isos for Leonard, it takes them out of the Spursian things they do best.
  • Cross-matches. DeAndre Jordan will defend Tim Duncan but Duncan will might guard Griffin. When the game is on the line, the Spurs will have Leonard on Paul, leaving Tony Parker to deal with Matt Barnes. The team that can press their advantages in all these cross-matches, without losing sight of the big picture, will probably control the series. For instance, the Clippers may be tempted to have Barnes post up Parker, but that's not really what they do. Better to have Barnes in a comfortable role, running and cutting and making Parker chase him, hitting the offensive glass hard, than to try to make Matt play with his back to the basket, which is not his strength.
  • The Clippers' bench. The Clippers' starting five of Paul-Redick-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan was among the most efficient and effective five man units in the NBA this season. But the leads the starters built were frequently squandered by the reserves. It's no secret that the bench will get shorter during the post-season -- we'll see how much shorter. I'm guessing that Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Glen Davis will comprise an eight-man rotation that Doc will try to get away with. Turkoglu will get a few minutes, probably spelling Barnes when Matt is tired but Leonard is in the game. Spencer Hawes would be out of my rotation based on his regular season play, but we'll see. You don't really need a fourth big in the rotation, the Spurs aren't so big that you need Hawes' size, and Davis has simply been better. The key here is probably Crawford, who missed a little over a month before returning for the last four games, in which he looked rusty. If he can clear the cobwebs a bit and give the Clippers' bench some instant offense it could make a huge difference.
  • Splitter. Tiago Splitter is an underrated member of the Spurs starting five. They've been much better this season when he plays. Unfortunately for them, he's had a mysterious calf ailment that recurred late in the season, causing him to miss their final six games. Especially against the Clippers, Splitter is a vital element for the Spurs. Not that he's super-athletic, but Boris Diaw and Aron Baynes make him look like Shawn Kemp (1993 Kemp; Diaw looks like 2001 Kemp, which is not a good thing). Splitter's health and effectiveness in this series could be a huge factor.
  • Clippers healthy. This Clippers' team is entering the post season healthier than any Clippers team in the Paul-Griffin era. Every other year we've been discussing Paul's hamstring, or Griffin's elbow, or Redick's back. This time the only real question is Crawford's rust. That can change at any moment of course, but as of now, the Clippers seem as close to 100% healthy as you can get after a 82 game season.
  • Duncan-Parker-Ginobili. The Spurs "Big Three" have been together for 13 seasons. None of them have ever played for any other NBA franchise. Among active players, only Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki have been with a single franchise as long as any one of them. They've won 539 regular season games together, one shy of the all-time NBA record of 540 set by Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale in Boston. Duncan has been amazing at the age of 38 and Parker has been as effective as ever when healthy. Ginobili on the other hand seems to have lost a step, and his numbers this season took a noticeable dip. It seems as if he's leaning towards retirement, so this may be the last postseason for this amazing trio.
  • The three ball. The Clippers wound up fifth in the NBA in three point attempts, third in makes and third in percentage -- it is a huge weapon for the team. How effectively they shoot from deep may be the ultimate key to this series. It's hard to stop their offense in the best of circumstances -- it's basically impossible if they're making threes. J.J. Redick is almost certainly going to get his -- but Matt Barnes is more of a wild card. He cooled off some in the final weeks of the season. If he shoots something like the 46% he did during the regular season as opposed to the 34% of his career, it will make a difference. Then there's Chris Paul, who made a career high 139 threes this year, 47 more than any other season. And don't forget that Hedo Turkoglu was over 43% from deep on the season.
  • Connections. Doc Rivers played for the Spurs towards the end of his career and as a coach is considered a protege of Gregg Popovich, who was an assistant coach when Doc was there. Hedo Turkoglu was a Spur for one season between longer stints in Sacramento and Orlando early in his career.
  • Get the Spurs perspective at Pounding the Rock.