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NBA Playoffs Clippers-Spurs Round 1 Game 4 Preview: The Bounceback

After a humiliating loss in game 3 of the series, the Clippers find themselves dangerously down 2-1 and facing a game 4 on the road. Will the team's urgency mirror the dire situation they find themselves in?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
2015 NBA Playoffs
First Round

spurs logo


Game 4 - Sunay April 26th, 2015, 12:30 PM
AT&T Center
Prime Ticket, TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Series Schedule
Game 1 - Sun April 19, 7:30 p.m. in Los Angeles, Clippers 107-Spurs 92
Game 2 - Wed April 22, 7:30 p.m. in Los Angeles, Spurs 111-Clippers 107
Game 3 - Fri April 24, 6:30 p.m. in San Antonio, Spurs 100-Clippers 73
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/Patty Mills
Jamal Crawford SG Manu Ginobili
Hedo Turkoglu SF Marco Belinelli
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)
Tony Parker (achilles) probable

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 Series (Spurs Lead 2-1):

Game Venue Final
1 Los Angeles Spurs 92, Clippers 107 Recap Box Score
2 Los Angeles Spurs 111, Clippers 107 (OT) Recap Box Score
3 San Antonio Clippers 73, Spurs 100 Recap Box Score

The Big Picture:

That was... depressing.  The Clippers, looking strong after a big win and a narrow defeat in the first two games of the series, were dominated last night by the Spurs, who have been just as scary a 6 seed as many expected.  When Popovich employs his hack-a-DJ strategy, Steve Perrin and many others wonder why the Spurs, the reigning champions, don't just beat the Clippers by being better at basketball.  Well, last night, that was what happened.  Fortunately, it won't happen again.  Not only was game 3 the worst Clipper playoff performance of all time, it was one of the worst performances we've seen from this era of Clippers.  Just as everyone knew that the game 1 dominance from the Clippers' side would not be consistent throughout the series, it's just as clear that game 3 was also a fluke.  Now, the Clippers need to shake off a demoralizing road loss and find a way to win the next game, just as the Spurs did by claiming game 2 (which, by the way, is the type of game that we're more likely to see as this series plays out).

Trading Blowouts:

In game 1, the Spurs shot only 36.6% from the field and 30.3% from three, an abysmal performance.  In game 3, the Clippers managed to be even more abysmal, shooting 34.1% from the field and 26.1% from deep.  Both teams are elite and both are motivated defensively, but neither has the defensive capabilities to hold the other to these types of performances.  Essentially, both teams had one throwaway bad shooting game, and it's made more bearable for both sides that it's now an even 5-game series, instead of one side being handicapped.  It's unlikely that we'll see more insane cold shooting from either side, and therefore it's fair to expect more exciting (and possibly heartbreaking) games for the rest of this series.

Parker vs Mills:

I'm more scared of Patty Mills than Tony Parker.  And as insane as that sounds, I think it makes some sense.  Mills has a better ability to space the floor than Parker, and for some reason Patty always seems to go crazy from deep in the playoffs.  Parker, especially in his hobbled state, hasn't done much against the Clippers in the first three games (4-11, 0-6, 3-11 FG), whereas Mills has been able to hit shots off the bench (3-5, 5-9, 2-5 FG), including 7 threes in his 45 minutes so far this series, compared to none for Parker.  Tony Parker will have his moments in this series, but for now, at least based off of the first three games, it's better for the Clippers if Parker's injuries are minor enough for him to stay in the lineup, because when he goes out, Mills comes in and abuses LAC's defensive scheme.

Defending the Three:

Speaking of defensive scheme, it feels like the Spurs are destroying the Clippers from behind the three-point line, and to be honest, it's felt like all series the Clippers have gotten lucky as San Antonio has missed open looks.  The reality is that the Spurs shot under 32% from deep in the games in Los Angeles before (predictably) getting hot at home Friday night.  One reason this is happening, that I've noticed, is because of the Clippers' pick-and-roll coverage.  The Clippers, not wanting to let Parker and Duncan get into the pick and roll, have been denying the screen, bringing Paul on a high-side hedge.  This forces DJ to step up on Parker, allowing Duncan to slip screens and forcing the weak-side wing (Redick or Barnes) to collapse, leaving a shooter.  It might be time to drop that coverage and allow Paul to go underneath screens against Parker and chase Mills over the top.  A well-executed pick-and-roll leaves the offense with a man advantage, plain and simple.  That's why it's the most basic, effective play in basketball.  If you're the Clippers, and you have to play a man down defensively as you recover and rotate, who would you rather leave split between two offensive players, Redick/Barnes/Crawford between a man on the wing and a man on the block, or Jordan between a ball handler and a man rolling to the rim (with Griffin having his back).

Supporting Cast:

The Clippers' big three of Paul, Griffin, and Jordan, were as big as expected in the first two games (with a drop-off in game 3), but the reason the Clippers have struggled more than the Spurs is the lack of a supporting cast.  This is more than a lack of depth in guys 7-11 off the bench, it's the failure of the Clippers' 4th, 5th, and 6th scorers to convert.  J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Matt Barnes have been anywhere from quiet to bad with the exception of Crawford's game 1 outbreak and a few late shots by Redick in game 2.  Overall, the trio is 28 of 87 from the field in these three games, and scoring about 28 points per game after averaging over 42 points a game during the regular season.  There's a lot more to statistics and performance than the archaic measurements of points per game, but at a certain point, production is production, and when production drops off in terms of points scored, it's very hard to win games.

J.J. Redick:

The single most important x-factor for the Clippers going forward is the play of their shooting guard.  I've long said that Redick is the Clippers' most important offensive player, and by putting Kawhi Leonard on him instead of Chris Paul, Popovich has brought LA's offense to a grinding halt.  What Redick brings to the table in terms of weak-side action is irreplaceable on this roster, and it's shown whenever he's been injured or gone to the bench in his time with the Clippers.  Even when Chris Paul or Blake Griffin have been hurt in the last two years, the offense has just been a worse pick-and-roll with Redick coming off screens on the weak side.  Instead of Paul and Griffin, it's been run with Collison and Griffin, or Crawford and Griffin, or Paul and Jordan.  But when Redick is taken out of the equation, the Clippers have nothing more than they did under Vinny Del Negro (maybe less when you consider that Barnes isn't quite the offensive weapon Caron Butler was).  And when the Spurs ice JJ, all the Clippers are left with is a simple pick and roll, a player who can only score at the rim, and a mediocre shooter to space the floor.  The Clippers aren't going to shut the Spurs down defensively and win this series with games in the 80s.  They need to win on offense, and in order for the offense to work, they need to get Redick good looks.  Just like how it seems weird that presidential elections come down to a couple of small states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, it seems weird that this series will come down the the Clippers' ability to get JJ Redick open vs. the Spurs' efforts to freeze him out of games, but nonetheless it's true.  To get this series back, the Clippers need to find a way to get back to their normal offensive action, which means finding a way to run their sets even with Kawhi Leonard shutting down Redick.

Long-Term Issues:

This Clippers' team, as constructed, has obvious long-term issues: the need for an upgraded SF (sorry Matt Barnes, you've been great, but it might be time for a smaller role), improved wing defense, a (much, much, much) stronger bench, an infusion of some youth into the lineup, etc.  But then there's other issues, ones that are much more controversial, such as Doc's role in front-office decision-making, DeAndre Jordan's worth as a potential max contract player, and the overall construction of the team around an aging Chris Paul.  It's not stuff that anyone really wants to have to talk about, and as long as the team wins, there's no need to talk.  If the Clippers replicate their game 3 performance Sunday afternoon and don't somehow get hot and pull off a comeback to win the series, these debates will be had ad nauseam over the off-season.  If the Clippers come out strong and take back homecourt advantage in the series, game 3 will be forgotten and the organization will plow forward in a best-2-out-of-3 series to advance.  This is a big game, folks.