San Antonio Versus L.A. Clippers PreviewWestern Conference Second Round
#1 San Antonio (50-16) vs. #5 L.A. Clippers (40-26)
Season series: San Antonio, 2-1
L.A. can win if…the Clippers consistently play good defense, focusing on limiting Tony Parker's dribble penetration while also monitoring the Spurs' deadly three point shooters (the Spurs ranked second in the league in three point field goals made and first in three point field goal percentage). The Clippers would like to force turnovers and get into the open court because their half court offense is often ineffective.
San Antonio will win because…the Spurs are a talented, deep and well rounded team whose only possible weakness--a relative lack of size in the frontcourt other than Tim Duncan--is not something that the Clippers are equipped to exploit.
Other things to consider: This series will feature some intriguing individual matchups, including a battle of two point guards who each finished in the top five in MVP voting (Chris Paul versus Tony Parker) and a showdown between arguably the greatest power forward of all-time (Tim Duncan) and rising star (literally and figuratively) Blake Griffin. Paul and Parker are both speed demons, while Duncan is a cerebral, crafty veteran who knows all the angles, an interesting contrast with the high-flying Griffin, who is still learning the subtler aspects of the game.
The Clippers survived a tough, physical series against the Memphis Grizzlies. That series was very peculiar, featuring improbable comebacks and teams winning games despite an extremely poor turnover differential (Memphis, game two) or absurdly bad free throw shooting (L.A., game three). Memphis blew a huge game one lead, fell behind 3-1, rallied to force a game seven at home and then simply could not make a shot in the friendly confines of the "Grindhouse," connecting at just a .325 rate while losing the series clincher 82-72. The Grizzlies held the lead for an overwhelming percentage of the time during the series but, much like the race car driver who leads most of the laps only to crash before reaching the finish line, the Grizzlies did not lead when it mattered most and the Clippers somehow advanced. Suffice it to say that the Clippers do not look like a team built for an extended playoff run.
The Spurs are no longer the defensive powerhouse that they were when they won four championships between 1999 and 2007 but they are still a solid defensive team and they have evolved to become a very dynamic offensive team both in the half court and in transition. The two biggest myths about this team are that they are old and that they are boring. While Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are 36 and 34 years old respectively (and reserve swingman Stephen Jackson is 34), the other members of San Antonio's deep rotation are all between 20 and 29 years old. Tony Parker is a 12 year veteran who will celebrate his 30th birthday early in this series but he has never averaged more than 35 mpg during a season and thus has not accumulated excessive mileage on his odometer. It is bizarre that an uptempo team featuring Parker, the explosive Manu Ginobili and several three point marksmen is consistently stereotyped as boring. What is boring about pushing the ball up the court and either shooting threes or converting dunks? Are the Spurs boring simply because they actually pay some attention to the defensive end of the court, unlike some other recent uptempo teams that acted as if "defense" was what separated their yard from their neighbor's yard?
The Spurs are very similar to the 1981-82 Lakers. The Spurs are peaking at the end of the season (they won their final 10 regular season games and 21 of their final 23 regular season games) and they are seeking to avenge their first round loss last season to the Grizzlies; those Lakers bounced back from an embarrassing first round loss to Houston in the 1981 Western Conference playoffs to storm to the 1982 title, peaking at the end of the season (winning 15 of their last 19 regular season games) and then sweeping their way through the Western Conference playoffs (which then consisted of two seven game series) before defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 4-2 in the NBA Finals. The Sixers' game two victory handed the Lakers their first loss in nearly seven weeks and it has been more than a month since the Spurs have lost a game. The Lakers had an older former MVP pivot player who was still quite effective; Tim Duncan plays the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar role for the Spurs. A young former Finals MVP guard set the pace for the Lakers; Tony Parker plays the Magic Johnson role for the Spurs (though Parker's body type and skill set are obviously much different than Johnson's). The Lakers were comfortable playing at either a fast or slow pace, something that is also definitely true of the Spurs. No historical analogy or comparison is perfect but I expect the Spurs to win the 2012 NBA championship and ultimately remain an underrated and unappreciated squad, much like the 1982 Lakers are mysteriously left out of the discussion of top notch all-time teams despite their great closing push at the end of the regular season and their dominant 12-2 playoff record.
posted by David Friedman @ 11:30 PM