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The Clippers are riding the momentum of their first playoff series win since 2006 and their 3rd in franchise history. It was very impressive how they were able to endure a grueling, physical series in which they had to overcome a 27-point lead late in the second half in one game, and had to go into enemy territory to win a Game 7 against a team that plays pretty well at home.
Chris Paul has meant so much to this team, not only in terms of his production, but also in the swagger and confidence that they play with on the court. They believe and expect to win games and that is the sign of a quality playoff caliber team. If only they had Chauncey Billups to add to the equation to give them championship pedigree and leadership on the floor.
The support that the Clippers have had during this playoff run thus far from Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young and Mo Williams have been vital to the often difficult playoff transition that Blake Griffin is enduring right now. Blake Griffin has been productive, but not nearly on the level that he has been historically in the regular season. After averaging 20.7 PPG and 10.7 rebounds, he has averaged 18 PPG and 6.4 rebounds.
He is not the first star to be hit with playoff reality. The key for the Clippers is that they have had enough production and help around him to buffer the transition of their star player and leading scorer and rebounder. Fortunately there have been different stars to step up each game thus far.
Chris Paul, while slowed by different nagging injuries has lived up to his billing as a prime-time playoff performer and consistently come through for the Clippers. He has averaged 20.4 PPG and 7.1 assists per game.
Going into this series however, this is a whole new ballgame. The Clippers are faced with the task of trying to derail one of the most successful franchises of the last decade plus. This is a team that boasts a guy with four rings (Tim Duncan), two guys with three rings (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and a coach that has guided the team through this entire era of success.
They have not been as successful of late in terms of winning championships, but year in year out like the New England Patriots despite that fact, the Spurs have been a factor. Since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997 following a season-ending injury to David Robinson the Spurs have won 50 wins every single year since then. The only year that they did not win 50, was their first championship season of 1999 when they won at a .740 clip, which in a non-strike shortened season would have gotten them 60 wins. This year, despite playing in another strike-shortened season, they still managed to win 50, which tied them for the best record in the NBA with the Bulls.
While the Spurs have not won a championship since 2007, this may be their best team since then. They have the big three of (quiet) star power in Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili, but the key is that this year, they have a nice balance of youth, energy and athleticism to compliment them. While their stars can be considered “old”, their supporting cast of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, Boris Diaw, and even Stephen Jackson gives the team a nice jolt of youth, energy and athleticism.
This is important because it has allowed the Spurs to rest up their stars throughout the season and not depend on them for heavy minutes even in the playoffs. As a result, the Spurs are playing at an extremely high level and while formerly being known as a defensive juggernaut and ugly offensive team, the Spurs have responded late in the season to literally rip apart opponents.
Not only did they finish the season as hot as any team could possibly be going into the playoffs winning 10 in a row and 24 of their last 27 games, but they often lit up the scoreboard in the process. They were over 100 in all but three of their victories and over 110 in 16 of those games! This just is not what you would expect from the Spurs normally. The Spurs still managed to be in the top half of the league in defense giving up 96 points per game.
In Round 1, the Spurs made quick work of a pretty tough Jazz team, letting up only 87.4 points per game against the 102.3 they averaged on offense. It is clear that the Spurs are on a mission. Most have started to at least acknowledge them as a contender, but still, the majority does not see them as the favorite. This might change soon, starting with the Clippers. The Clippers are a serious foe with Chris Paul being the clutch player he is, and the physical toughness and swagger that the team has up and down the roster, but in the end the Spurs are just too sound and too deep a team to allow a somewhat flawed team to win in this round.
The series will at least be competitive, especially in Los Angeles, but in the end, Coach Popovich seems to be pushing all the right buttons and most importantly the Spurs are injury-free and focused. Expect the Spurs to win this series in 5, as it is very conceivable that the Clippers put on a magnificent display at home to take one of their two home games this weekend.