We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy series, even after the first game where the Clippers distanced themselves from the Spurs numerous times. We knew the San Antonio Spurs are a veteran organization with veteran knowhow that can exploit mismatches and systematic failures. We knew the Spurs weren’t going to shoot like they were stuck in an ice box all series long. And, tonight, we finally got a glimpse of what an "A" game looks like from a team in this series. Tonight really was a walk of shame for the Clippers and they let the Game 2 loss linger far longer than they ever should have. But also give credit to the team they played. They are mighty good.
|Los Angeles Clippers||16||22||11||24||73|
|San Antonio Spurs||25||21||24||30||100|
Tonight, the Clippers played horribly. Yet, despite all of that, with just 3:11 to go in the first half, they found themselves only down by four points and on the verge of possibly making this game closer than it had any right to be. Then the Spurs went full death machine and decided to rip Los Angeles’ heart out and show it to them before ingesting it to gain its sustenance. Even in the third quarter, it was only an 8-point game before everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Murphy’s Law was in effect tonight for the Clippers and Lawler’s Law was showcased by the Spurs in a 100-73 plastering. The 73 points is a franchise low in a playoff game, as is the 34.1 percent shooting for the game. The 27-point loss is also a franchise worst in a playoff game.
At the core of this series is a guy that the San Antonio Spurs have that the Los Angeles Clippers simply have no answer for. He’s only 23 years old and he’s already one of the best two-way players in the game. Whatever Gregg Popovich asks of him, Kawhi Leonard will do without a second guess. This game proved just how much of a difference maker Leonard has become for the Spurs. Whether he was asked to guard Chris Paul or J.J. Redick or even Blake Griffin, which he did a couple times, or he was asked to shoulder the offensive load. It didn’t matter. Leonard did it all tonight en route to finishing with a game-high 32 points as the Spurs systematically disemboweled the Clippers and won going away in a game that was only close for a few moments in the first half.
There are three things to take away from this game in totality. First off, Kawhi Leonard is really freaking good. You got it? Good. There’s no one on the Clippers roster who can body Leonard up defensively and then score against him consistently on the offensive end. Leonard is the difference in this series and was the difference in a game tonight that saw Tim Duncan finish with four points, Tony Parker finish with six points, and Manu Ginobili finish with two points. The Spurs prototypical Big Three had 12 points on 6-for-19 shooting. And the Spurs still won. By 27. That’s the type of difference that Kawhi Leonard can make.
Secondly, Gregg Popovich is just that much better than every other coach in the NBA. He adjusted beautifully after Game 1 and realized that going big against the Clippers wasn’t going to work and it only led to the repeated death of Aron Baynes. Since then, however, he’s gone to a smaller lineup with Boris Diaw and spaced the floor with Diaw’s passing and ball movement. It’s resulted in wide open shot after wide open shot for the Spurs while the Clippers scramble to recover and often find themselves flailing at the air much like you do when you drop your phone in the toilet and try to swipe at it like a ninja but fail.
Lastly, the Clippers just can’t afford to keep shooting the ball like the rim is a bully in the alley and they’re Steve Rogers before he turned into Captain America. They’re getting open shots. I swear, they are. They’re just missing the vast majority of them. Jamal Crawford was 1-for-11 tonight, J.J. Redick was 2-for-7, Blake Griffin was 6-for-15, and Chris Paul was 3-for-11. Everyone but DeAndre Jordan – and, let’s face it, he only dunks or has tip-ins – shot like garbage tonight. Bad games happen. Even in the playoffs. But with every game being so important, it’s frustrating to watch unfold.
Chris Paul had one of the worst playoff games of his career, finishing with just 7 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds while turning the ball over a staggering six times. Blake Griffin had a team-high 14 points, game-high 10 rebounds, and 5 assists but generally did not look good. J.J. Redick was blanketed by Kawhi Leonard, Matt Barnes is still missing in action, and DeAndre Jordan was just there. Outside of Leonard, the Spurs got 15 points from Boris Diaw and 11 points from Danny Green as he found his stroke from deep again.
This series isn’t over. Far from it. The Clippers got their hearts ripped out at the end of Game 2 only to have the Spurs display it to them in Game 3. Whatever the Clippers do from here on out is on them. Sunday afternoon is a tricky game to predict because of the short turnaround and the uncertainty of small sample size results. The Clippers have not shot well on open shots all series and that trend continued tonight. If it continues on Sunday, they’re looking at a 3-1 deficit as they come home for Game 5 and what could be their final game of the year.
Doc Rivers has to make some adjustments, though. Gregg Popovich is taking advantage of the Clippers lackluster rotational defense time and time again by going small and forcing the Clippers to either double-team in the post – which is seriously idiotic, by the way – or just stay at home and live with what happens. If Doc is smart, he’ll live with what happens. Stop double-teaming down in the post on Diaw and Duncan and giving them just one pass out of it to find an open shooter. It’s lunacy. Clippers have to search for answers. They can find them but this is the Spurs, after all. They’re this good for a reason. We’ll see on Sunday what the Clippers have learned after three games.
Chris Paul teams are now about to be 0-6 in playoff road games in San Antonio. All 6 losses will have been by double-digits.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) April 25, 2015