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Clippers-Spurs Game 3 Preview: River Walk of Shame?

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Tied at one game apiece, the Los Angeles Clippers head into enemy territory to play the San Antonio Spurs. At worst, the Clippers need a split by the river. At best, they can seize control of a series that is impossibly tough to quantify.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
at
56-26

55-27
April 24, 2015, 6:30 PM
AT&T Center (San Antonio, Texas)
ESPN, Prime Ticket, Fox Sports Southwest, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Series Schedule
Tied at 1-1
Game 1 - Clippers 107, Spurs 92
Game 2 - Spurs 111, Clippers 107 (OT)
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 (2014-2015)
19-11 East 23-7
37-15 West 32-20
12-4 Division 8-8
30-11 Home 33-8
26-15 Road 22-19
19-22 .500 + 23-19
37-4 - .500 32-8
1-1 OT 1-6
9-1 L10 9-1
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
Advanced Stats
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
Jordan Hamilton (Questionable) Concussion
Tony Parker (Questionable) Achilles
Clippers and Spurs tied in season series; 2-2
Date
Venue
Final
Clips Nation Recap
ESPN Box Score
11/10/2014
Los Angeles
Spurs 89, Clippers 85
Recap
Box Score
12/22/2014
San Antonio
Spurs 125, Clippers 118
Recap
Box Score
01/31/2015
San Antonio
Clippers 105, Spurs 85
Recap
Box Score
02/19/2015
Los Angeles
Clippers 119, Spurs 105
Recap
Box Score

The Number One Contender
After a solid Game 1 win, the Los Angeles Clippers rebounded in Game 2 by playing somewhat lackluster basketball and still having a chance to pull it out in the end before the basketball gods deemed them unworthy of such honors yet again. Going back to the regular season, the team has won 15 of their last 17 games and is playing some solid basketball but has yet to kick into a high enough gear to really showcase the level they can play at. They won in San Antonio earlier this year in one of the most impressive wins they had all season, a second night of a back-to-back victory by 20 over a healthy Spurs squad. We’ll see if history can replicate itself.

The Reigning, Defending Champions
The Spurs turned the corner in Game 2, pretty much controlling the pace and flow of the game throughout before seeing a double-digit lead dwindle away in the final few minutes. It took a Blake Griffin turnover, a missed Chris Paul jumper, and some missed free throws by J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and DeAndre Jordan to pull the game out but a win is a win. Especially seeing as they were without Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter for vast stretches of the game. They now head home with homecourt advantage and all they have to do is win their three remaining home games to pull the series out. It’s as simple as that .. in theory.

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Comparison of Key Metrics
Let’s just look at this from a playoff standpoint. And, yes, there’s going to be some SSS – Small Sample Size – stuff going on that you’re just going to have to deal with. The two teams have played 101 total minutes against each other. The Clippers starters have played together in 57 of the 101 minutes. That group has a Net Rating of +9.8. The Spurs starters have only played together 17 minutes and have a Net Rating of -9.0. Los Angeles, as a team, has an ORtg of 105.1 and DRtg of 99.6 in this series while San Antonio has an ORtg of 99.6 and DRtg of 105.1. The average pace of the games has been 96.83 possessions which makes it the second highest paced series behind the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks (104.75).

Schedule
The schedule is pretty straightforward from here on out. They’re going to be playing every other day until (if?) they get to a Game 7. There’d be two off days between games six and seven for the teams to rest up before having to punch each other in the mouth like prize fighters the same night Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao do so. So, it’s every other day unless there’s a Game 7.

X-Factor (Spurs): Gregg Popovich
There’s zero argument that Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA today and has a valid case to go down as the greatest coach in NBA history. And, as usual, he’s the ultimate difference maker for the San Antonio Spurs every night. In Game 2, Popovich switched things up a little bit by using Patty Mills and Boris Diaw quite a bit together. The usage of their Mills-Green-Leonard-Diaw-Duncan lineup allowed the Spurs to get better shots out of the pick-and-roll than if Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter were in there. It also allowed Diaw to switch easier onto the perimeter defensively with guys like Green and Leonard. Mills and Diaw have played 25 minutes together this series and the duo has a Net Rating of +19.1. Their ability to do various things has helped San Antonio throw wrinkles at the Clippers that Los Angeles wasn’t really ready for. That’s what Popovich can do. He can tinker with his toys and get them running flawlessly all over again.

X-Factor (Clippers): Matt Barnes
It’d be easy to say that J.J. Redick is the biggest influence on the Clippers offense outside of, obviously, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul but Matt Barnes has been an offensive no-show through the first two games for the most part. Barnes is just 4-for-15 from the field in this series and that’s after starting out 3-for-4 from the field in Game 1. He’s missed ten of his last eleven shots. The Clippers cannot have sustained success against the San Antonio Spurs in this series without Matt Barnes showing up. He’s just 3-for-9 from three, isn’t converting around the rim when he gets opportunities, and is largely ignored for periods of time because defenders don’t respect his shot. If the Clippers are to advance against the Spurs, Barnes has got to start hitting shots. He’s taken his late season struggles into the playoffs and is now even struggling at the line, where he missed three of his four free throws in the fourth quarter. Counting the playoffs, Barnes is shooting 37.4 percent from the field and 29.9 percent from three over the last 15 games. That cannot continue.

Slightly Hampered Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are basically the walking wounded right now as Tony Parker is dealing with a strained Achilles and Tiago Splitter isn’t fully healthy after his calf injury. Because of this, Gregg Popovich has had to get even more creative with lineups and such. Splitter only played 8:14 in the second half and overtime while Parker played just 13:57. On the flip side, Boris Diaw played 22:51, Patty Mills played 14:58, and Manu Ginobili played 11:17. Even Marco Belinelli got 8:17 of time in the game’s final 29 minutes. If Parker isn’t really ready to go on Friday night then the Spurs could have some issues with shorter rotations. However, Mills spaces the floor a tad more than Parker does and allows Duncan to operate more in the post. But the Splitter injury impacts the Spurs interior defense which has allowed the Clippers to take advantage down low with their bigs and even on guard penetration at times. Injuries in the playoffs are tough to overcome but the Spurs have the personnel to do so. Injuries to two guys this important, though, could be problematic to a team looking to make yet another run into June.

When Does Either Team Play Their "A" Game?
Maybe it’s because we’ve seen both of these teams play at a high level the last few years, but it just feels like each team has struggled to get anything consistent going offensively and defensively at times. Each team has left really good shooters wide open, each team has rotated oddly defensively, and each team has seemed to not take advantage fully. Perhaps it’s just that they’re each so good and so capable in every phase of the game that they simply nullify each other throughout large chunks of the game. So far, it seems each side has been playing about a B level brand of basketball. Neither team has really showcased their A game yet and that’s something to watch going forward. Whichever team starts to look more and more like themselves could steal this series right out from under the nose of the other team.

Old Man and The Mountain
There has only been one other instance of a player in the playoffs putting up the stat line that Blake Griffin – 26 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks – put up in Game 1, as far as minimums are concerned. That guy, not surprisingly, was Tim Duncan back in Game 1 of the 2003 NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets. Griffin followed that up by then going for 29-12-11 in Game 2. He became just one of three players to have a 20-10-10 game against the Spurs in the playoffs. The other two are Gary Payton and LeBron James. You might have heard of them. Griffin has been a mountain of a man in this series. He’s averaging 27.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 blocks through the first two contests. There’s not much else you can ask of him. On the other side is Tim Duncan, the savvy Hall of Famer and all-time great, who is averaging 19.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks. This is truly one of the most incredible playoff series ever turned in by a guy who is just one day shy of his 39th birthday. Tim Duncan, because of his 28-11-4 performance in Game 2, became the fifth oldest player in NBA playoff history to have a 25-point and 10-rebound performance. He became the oldest guy in NBA playoff history to have a 25-point, 10-rebound, and 4-assist performance, though. These two, at very different times in their career, are playing some beautiful basketball and making history that we have rarely seen. Enjoy it.

Uncontested Shots
Through two games, the teams have combined for 138 uncontested shots according to NBA dot com’s SportVU data. The Spurs are just 31-for-73 (42.67 percent) on them and the Clippers are 30-for-65 (46.15 percent). When looking at the Shot Analytics data, we get a slightly different picture. The Clippers have attempted 52 shots against the Spurs from 15+ feet with a defender at least four feet away. They’re shooting just 36.54 percent (19-for-52) on them. On the other hand, the Spurs are at 40.43 percent (19-for-47) on those same shots. Some of the more prominent players in this series spell that out. Matt Barnes is 3-for-9 on uncontested shots, J.J. Redick is 5-for-14, Blake Griffin is 4-for-14, Danny Green is 4-for-10, Boris Diaw is 2-for-11, Manu Ginobili is 1-for-6, and Tim Duncan is 2-for-7. Whichever one of these teams hits the open shots their given first will likely win. Sounds logical but nothing through the first two games has been logical.

Kawhi You So Good Defensively?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Kawhi Leonard won Defensive Player of the Year yesterday and narrowly edged out Golden State’s Draymond Green for the award. Our very own DeAndre Jordan finished third in the voting with Anthony Davis coming in fourth and Rudy Gobert coming in fifth to round out the top five. On my own personal ballot which, obviously, isn’t official by any means, I had Leonard first and Green second with Andrew Bogut third. Bogut ended up sixth in real life. For those who haven’t seen much of Leonard this year or base him off of this series alone, Kawhi has been a force that harkens us back to the days of Scottie Pippen and the tenacious perimeter defense that stifled many teams who ran into the vaunted Chicago Bulls dynasty. Leonard can switch onto anyone, disrupt passing lanes with his freakish length and hands, and dominates any opponent he faces just through sheer will and intelligence. In winning the award, Leonard became the first perimeter player to win Defensive Player of the Year since Ron Artest did so back in 2004 and just the third in the last twenty years. I talked about this in the article I wrote back in early March, but it seemed like the right year for a non-big to finally win again.

A Tribe Called Stench
There’s no doubt that San Antonio has the bench advantage over Los Angeles in this series. It’s such a wide gulf in both talent and fit that the Golden Gate Bridge couldn’t bridge the gap. The bench hasn’t been that terrible for the Clippers, though. Austin Rivers has a Net Rating of +9.6 in 24 minutes, Glen Davis has a +23.0 Net Rating in 22 minutes, and Jamal Crawford, while obviously not as impactful in Game 2 as he was in Game 1, has a Net Rating of +2.3. The issue comes from the fact that the starters have to play so much of the game because the bench is just that untrustworthy, though. In the playoffs, rotations are shortened and all that happy stuff but the bench has to supply at least some semblance of production and not allow the starters to come back in behind the 8-ball. It’ll be interesting to see what Doc Rivers does with this group in Game 3 since Crawford, Rivers, and Davis are all playing okay for the most part. An 8-man bench is possible and could be used. Doc just has to put them in a position to succeed. When Crawford has come in for Barnes this series and played with the other four starters, the Net Rating has dipped by 30 points and it’s all on the defensive end as San Antonio has taken advantage of Crawford’s inability to pay attention defensively. There’s a happy medium there. Coach Doc has to find it.

The NBA Must Be Thanking This Series
Outside of a couple nail-biting games here and there, all the other series have kind of sucked for the most part. Atlanta’s up 2-0 on Brooklyn, Cleveland’s up 3-0 on Boston, Chicago’s up 3-0 on Milwaukee, Washington’s up 2-0 on Toronto, Golden State’s up 3-0 on New Orleans, Houston’s up 2-0 on Dallas, and Memphis is up 2-0 on Portland. This is the only series that, through the first six full days of the playoffs, has seen each team in it actually win a game. The others are blowouts for the most part. Atlanta, Cleveland, and Chicago have each been tested but their opponents aren’t nearly good enough to do anything upset worthy. Washington won two games on the road in Toronto to steal the series basically and make Toronto look bad during the process. Golden State hasn’t had an easy time with New Orleans but that series’ result was never in doubt. Houston is taking advantage of an imploding Dallas squad and Memphis is feasting on an injury riddled Portland team. This series is the NBA’s only saving grace in the first round and it’s pure lunacy that one of these teams will be going home while a few other teams move on. If not for this series, no one would give a damn about the first round right now in all likelihood. The East sucks and the West turned out to be easy to predict early on but not this series. You can already bank on the NBA praying this one goes seven games just for maximum interest.

Prediction
108 102
The Clippers let the tough Game 2 loss linger a little bit and take a loss to open the second stage of the series in San Antonio. The heavy minutes by the starters start to take a toll on the team as a whole and ultimately spells doom for the team in the latter stages of the game as they can’t find that last gear to nudge themselves into. Spurs take this one and the series lead on their home floor while the Clippers have to rebound for Sunday’s afternoon affair.
Team Leaders
Points: Blake Griffin (24) | Rebounds: DeAndre Jordan (13) | Assists: Chris Paul (11)