Clippers vs. Spurs: We Got a Series

Let’s take a moment to commemorate the brave soul known as Aaron Baynes who was lost while performing dangerous stunts during the Blake Griffin Dunkathon.

Griffin’s two eviscerations of Baynes will be featured at length in Clippers, Spurs highlight replays and will be trending on social media when the East Coast arises in a hazy, sleep-deprived state after staying up into the wee hours of the night, but it was the improvements and expansion of Griffin’s game that should have Clipper nation giddy. Griffin showcased his much-discussed, but improved awkward midrange jumper with enough effectiveness to perhaps demand that a Spurs defender be within a 10-foot radius in Game 2. He bulldozed deep into the paint, ramrodding his shoulder into the chest of Boris Diaw, then calmly displaying a series of efficacious pivots to acquire the needed space to drop in a right-handed layup. Griffin was simply outstanding in a variety of ways scoring 26 points on 9-20 shooting, converting 8-10 free throws, yanking down 12 rebounds, dishing out six assists and throwing in six stocks[1] just so people know he had an impact on both ends.

Griffin was spectacular throughout the night, but the best player on the floor was Chris Paul, the playoff enigma who is accustomed to the level of postseason play he displayed last night, even if his so-called narrative would suggest otherwise.

paul

Paul was his usual self, probing the Spurs defense with his authoritarian-style power dribble, whizzing passes to 3-point shooters and dunking behemoths, harassing ball handlers whose animosity for Paul grew faster than that of NBA theatric-hating fans and finally dousing the Spurs with kerosene courtesy of his midrange jumper. Paul delighted the Clipper crowd with his tactical domination of the game and caused every Spurs defender outside of Kawhi Leonard to question their defensive pedigree.

He controlled the game throughout with his performance in pick and rolls scenarios both offensively and defensively. Offensively, Paul’s synchronized operation of the pick and roll led to 35 points on 29 ball screens, resulting in 1.21 points per possession via SportVU tracking by Synergy. He also scored 15 of his game-high 32 points via ball screens situations repeatedly flaunting his potent pull-up jumper. However, Paul was equally impressive in ball screen situations on the defensive end allowing just 12 total points on 31 ball screens, or 0.39 points per possession. Paul was the Clippers’ catalyst throughout the night, exiting the game in a translucent state of triumph overwhelmed by extreme exhaustion.

Although the Spurs underwhelmed with their Game 1 performance and the media world will overreact by suggesting the 15-year reign of the Pop, Duncan era Spurs may finally accede to the unavoidable end that at some point awaits, graciously overdue, the Spurs will be fine. The duet routine of Griffin and Paul, compelled season ticket holders and basketball gurus to exclaim it was perhaps their best one yet.

Sixth-man Jamal Crawford successfully turned the highest level of organized basketball into his own personal streetball isolation clinic, dropping 17 points on an efficient 7-10 shooting. Coach Doc undid the disastrous bench unit compiled by GM Doc by simply adopting the idea that his starters are actually robots and do not encounter fatigue.

As the series persists, Doc will either be forced to use his bench or run his starters into the ground which would certainly jeopardize the odds of Griffin and Paul being equally spectacular for the bulk of the series as they were in Game 1. Crawford’s isolation shooting percentages vary severely game-by-game, and on his off nights he’s seems oblivious to the fact that his shots aren’t actually resulting in productive offense thus becoming a bit of a liability. DeAndre Jordan’s 5-12 performance at the line could actually be labeled as a successful night at the charity stripe.

However, outside of prospects of the Clippers’ future performances, the Spurs will expect more from themselves. Pop’s mum and particularly salty postgame press conference wasn’t because of how well Paul and Griffin played, but rather because of the underwhelming output from his own squad. The Spurs had a number of uncharacteristically egregious turnovers, failed to get back on defense after made baskets on several occasions and shot threes as if they were the Charlotte Hornets. Those trends are unlikely to continue for the veteran-laden Spurs especially under the tutelage of Pop.

Tony Parker’s lack of burst and explosiveness, not to mention his recurring injuries, are a legitimate long term concern, but outside of Leonard and Marco Belinelli no members of the Spurs were even average. Tim Duncan got into some foul trouble early and never got into much of a rhythm. Danny Green appeared to dial back the clock to his D-League days going 2-11 from the field, and reaching at Paul’s handles only to realize he wasn’t, in fact, defending a completely incompetent ball handler as Paul jetted past him and collapsed the Spurs D. Boris Diaw outdid Green’s shooting with a 2-12 mark, and his low post defense on Griffin was almost on the same level of awfulness as Green’s.

kawhi

If everyone plays that poorly for the Spurs for the rest of the playoffs in one game, I would be surprised. Seriously, what are the odds Green and Diaw combine to shoot 4-23 and 1-12 from three? Expect more disciplined defense from Green and for Pop to give up entirely on the idea that Parker can successfully defend Paul in Game 2. Also while Tiago Splitter’s calf injury remains in limbo, it should progress as the series goes on providing Pop with another option to defend Griffin if Diaw continues to struggle. Offensively, expect to see more Duncan and Leonard postups, especially if the Clippers continue to display the success they had in Game 1 defending the pick and roll.

The Clips proved themselves to be a force in Game 1, but the Spurs have proven themselves to be a force for the past decade and a half. This game isn’t an end, but a beginning. This is going to be a hell of a series!

[1] Stocks are steals plus blocks, coined by Bill Simmons.

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