It took a little bit longer than we would have thought a week or so ago, but the Clippers have advanced to round two to face the Spurs. It seems like an oddly appropriate match up, these two organizations could not be more different.
The Spurs are built traditionally. They have three veteran stars that are all home grown. Tim Duncan is in year 15, Tony Parker is in year 11, and Manu Ginobili is in year 10. None of them have ever played for another team.
The Clippers were built in a new fashion. Sure Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan came through the draft, but that's where the similarities to San Antonio end. No Clipper player has been there for more than a few years. Caron Butler came through free agency just a few months ago, as did Kenyon Martin. Mo Williams came as part of a salary shedding trade, and Nick Young was added at the deadline.
Most important though, was the addition of Chris Paul. After a trade with the Lakers fell through, the league's best point guard was shipped to the Clippers for far less than market value. The Clippers were able to steal Paul because he is from the new age of stars, the type that refuses to play in small markets and thinks of himself as a brand.
That couldn't be further from the San Antonio model.
Tim Duncan is the embodiment of a team-oriented star, sticking with the Spurs despite several opportunities to play for higher-profile teams. While Chris Paul might be the greatest team player in basketball on the court, he doesn't embody those values off of it. Maybe that's why the Spurs have four championships and no player on the Clippers roster (with the exception of the injured Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler who missed the 2011 playoffs) even has one.
That gives the Spurs a big advantage in this series. When the game gets close, the Spurs can count on Duncan, Parker and Ginobili to make smart plays. They've been there and know what to do. Can you say the same about Chris Paul and Blake Griffin?
The coaching situation mirrors what we see from the players. Greg Popovich is the coach of the year. Vinny Del Negro nearly got fired in March.
So here we have two polar opposites: The veterans who have been there, versus the upstart newcomers.
The organization that has done nothing but win against the organization that has done nothing but lose.
The big market with a flashy moniker ("Lob City") against the small-town team that likes to grind it out.
Most importantly though, the team built the old fashioned way against the team thrown together like an "NBA Live" roster.
This series is the first true test we'll see of the old school vs. new school. The Clippers probably have more talent, but we don't know for sure if a team built around one of the "brand" stars can win so quickly with their new team.
I think such a team can win, but not these Clippers. A better test of this new type of team building will be what happens when the Miami Heat play against San Antonio or the OKC Thunder in the finals. I think the Clippers become more legitimate contenders in the future, but this isn't their year.
The Spurs are going to give the Clippers a true taste of what playoff basketball means. For that reason, I'm taking the Spurs in six.
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