May 15, 2012

San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers

 Martin Soaries
          The sum of the Los Angeles Clippers' parts add up to borderline championship potential. The Clippers are the sixth team in NBA history to win a Game 7 on the road after relinquishing a 3-1 series lead. There's a reason why this is only the third postseason series win in Clippers franchise history. Chris Paul is obviously a huge part of that reason, but the Clippers team I saw against Memphis looked extremely tough. Chris Paul epitomizes a tough point guard, he is the leader of the team, and as a result the Clippers have become legitimately tough. When I say 'tough' it includes both mental and physical aspects. The Clippers get physical toughness from Paul, DeAndre Jordan, veterans Caron Butler and Kenyon Martin, and Reggie Evans, probably the most physical defensive player in the NBA. My pick in this series was Memphis in 7, I thought their experience from last year would translate into another great run in the West, especially with Rudy Gay healthy. Not to mention I thought they were tougher. I wasn't surprised to see them bounce back from a 3-1 deficit and force a Game 7 because of their toughness, but for the Clippers to win Game 7 in Memphis, and hold them to just 72 points, shows great toughness.
           I attribute most of the Clippers' mental toughness to Chris Paul, because if you watch him play you always see his effort and competitive spirit. Chris Paul is one of those guys you absolutely love to have on your team, because he makes things happen in big moments. He's been to the Conference semifinals before, back in 2008 with the New Orleans Hornets. Fun fact: Paul and the Hornets lost to the Spurs that year in seven games. I'm sure Chris Paul remembers. What makes Paul so great is how he makes his teammates better. Nick Young, Mo Williams, and Eric Bledsoe have been solid backcourt contributors, and with Paul at the helm they are a scrappy bunch. In Game 7 the Clippers bench outscored the Grizzlies bench 41-11 led by Nick Young's 13. This Clippers team is tough and not afraid of anyone, but at the end of the day they will go as far as Chris Paul's mental toughness takes them.
           All this Clippers talk might come off like I think they will win this series. On the contrary, if I had to make a pick it would be Spurs in 7, but that's only because at this point, the Spurs are supposed to win. That doesn't mean the Clippers won't be a tougher foe than the Utah Jazz. The Spurs contrast the new Clippers identity with a more finesse style of play. Tony Parker isn't exactly the most physical point guard, but he beats you with his craftiness and speed. Same with Duncan, who we all know is Mr. Fundamental when he's on the block. The Parker/Paul and Duncan/Griffin match ups should be entertaining, but what separates the Spurs from any other team is the production they get from each of their role players. Roles are played extremely well in San Antonio, starting with Manu Ginobili as the sixth man. But even with the greatness of the Spurs' veteran big three, they aren't averaging 102 points per game thus far in the playoffs on their own. They are getting 10 points from Stephen Jackson, 8 points from Danny Green, Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter, 7 points from the impressive rookie Kawhi Leonard, and 5 points from Boris Diaw and Dejaun Blair. This Spurs team, unlike the dynasty of old with David Robinson, is a more offensive-minded team. They were able to hold the Jazz to an 86 point average in the first round, but no one would disagree that they have much better individual talent to deal with in Lob City. I will say this, if we see games in the 80's, the series will favor the Clippers. All of their wins against Memphis came when they held the Grizzlies under 100 points. If Lob City is to advance to the Western Conference Finals, they have to make this a gritty series. Trying to simply outscore the Spurs is useless because of their countless options. Either way, I think we see a hard-fought series of contrasting styles of basketball. I like the Spurs to win, but the Clippers could turn this into a dog fight and leave these Spurs with a black eye.

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