6 Factors That Will Decide LA Clippers' Playoff Ceiling
In a sloppy Game 1 effort, Lob City was exposed by a deadly pick-and-roll game.
The Clips made David Lee look All-NBA as he torched Los Angeles for 20 points and 13 boards. Chris Paul had an uncharacteristic six turnovers, as Klay Thompson hounded him on the perimeter all afternoon.
In just two games, the Clippers demonstrated their playoff potential.
Sloppy games with subpar shooting could see them upset by a hungry Warriors squad in the first round. Alternatively, their performance in Game 2 manifested their prowess as defenders.
When the Clippers are defending and scoring at an elite level, they can compete with anyone.
Lob City followed up its Game 2 success with a gutty road victory in a hostile arena, taking back home-court advantage in the process.
So after a three games, what have we learned about LAC’s playoff ceiling? What will dictate how far this team will go?
Let’s take a look at six internal and external factors that will decide the Clippers’ playoff ceiling.
A concern over the last two postseasons, the Clippers cannot afford to have more dismal shooting performances from the free-throw line.
The Clippers’ 73 percent regular-season average put them among the worst free-throw shooting teams in the league. For all of DeAndre Jordan’s improvement this season, the big man shot just 42.8 percent from the stripe.
The Warriors’ Mark Jackson and the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich are just some of the coaches who employ a Deck-a-DJ strategy to stymie the Clips’ lethal offense.
Over three games, Jordan has shot an effective 56 percent from the charity stripe. However, after a strong 7-for-8 performance in Game 1, Jordan regressed to just 3-for-8 in the Game 2 blowout. Hearing the jeers in Oracle Arena, Jordan shot just 4-for-9 in Game 3.
DJ’s free-throw shooting will be crucial over the course of the postseason. Some key misses could cost Lob City games it cannot afford to lose.
J.J. Redick's Health
Battling a bulging disc for the last couple of months, J.J. Redick has gutted out two solid performances in the postseason.
In Game 1, Redick put up a playoff career high of 22 points on efficient 8-for-11 shooting. His 4-for-5 clip from distance kept the Warriors’ defense honest.
The Game 2 rout saw Redick play just 24 minutes, where he put up a quiet nine points on 3-of-7 shooting.
Redick’s constant motion on the perimeter and the baseline are invaluable to a Clippers’ offense that can get stagnant at times. The floppy action the Clippers run for the Duke standout can warp the floor and compel the defense to send its best defender to chase the guard around.
Game 3 was a manifestation of the problems Redick can cause.
He had a team-high plus-6, dropping a quiet 14 points and five assists on 45.5 percent shooting. A natural floor spacer, Redick went 3-for-6 from distance, accounting for nearly half of Lob City's long balls.
His mere presence on the court creates all sorts of spacing issues for the opposition, opening up driving lanes for Paul and Blake Griffin in the process.
While Redick has looked refreshed, back injuries are volatile.
Redick’s absence for an extended period of time in the postseason would be detrimental to the Clips’ championship aspirations.
Doc Rivers' Strategies
Although the Clippers only won one more regular-season game with Doc Rivers than they did with former coach Vinny Del Negro, the consensus among Clipper Nation is that Rivers is a coach capable of leading Los Angeles to the Finals.
From buoying DeAndre Jordan as a member of Lob City’s Big Three to shaping a reworked defense that saw the Clips’ defend the three better than any other team, Rivers has said and done all of the right things in his short time in Lob City.
Rivers’ capacity to design defensive schemes to smother LeBron James while he was the coach of the Boston Celtics will now be put to the test against the West’s best floor-spacers.
This series has already seen the bending of the Clippers’ perimeter defense to corral Curry. Should the Clips and the Oklahoma City Thunder advance, then Rivers will have to use his thinking cap to engineer schemes to thwart the offensive brilliance of Kevin Durant.
Rivers’ expert communication has fostered an environment where the whole can exceed the sum of its parts. Translating that to a creative resiliency for a young Clippers’ roster will be crucial in keeping the Clippers' championship pursuit alive.
With Blake Griffin struggling with foul trouble throughout Game 1, the Clippers’ lack of frontcourt depth was exposed by a crafty Warriors offense.
BG had an efficient 16 points and tied the team-high plus-minus of plus-9. However, the big man was limited to just 19 minutes of action before fouling out.
Game's 2 and 3 demonstrated Griffin's force on floor.
Overpowering Draymond Green, Jermaine O'Neal and David Lee, Griffin scored 67 points in 74 minutes on a stellar 66.7 percent shooting from the field.
While Glen "Big Baby" Davis has played inspired ball off the bench, the Clips struggle against the Warriors without their most potent offensive weapon. Grumblings of a lack of interior depth throughout the season compelled Rivers to experiment with numerous parts including Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison.
Davis is a more than serviceable backup big, but when the game is on the line, the Clips need their best players out there. Through three games, Golden State has had no answer for Griffin.
Griffin’s growth throughout the season has been a revelation for Lob City.
Silencing his critics, Griffin will likely finish third overall in MVP voting with season averages of 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists. When Paul was sidelined with a shoulder injury early into January, Griffin’s game took off.
That month saw Griffin put up MVP numbers of 25.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 55.4 percent shooting from the field.
Three games into his series with the Warriors, Griffin looks to be continuing his tear.
Putting up video game numbers against a depleted Dubs frontcourt is one thing, however. Should the Clips advance to the second round, Griffin will have to duel with the girth of Kendrick Perkins and the length of Serge Ibaka.
While the road ahead is daunting, Griffin’s controlled aggression is integral to the Clippers' success.
Paul's Playoff Gear
A calm, collected assassin in crunch time, Chris Paul will need some vintage performances for the Clippers to have a deep postseason run.
Since Paul made the playoffs, he has terrorized the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies in the postseason. Despite numerous ailments last year, Paul still found a way to torch the Grizzlies’ Tony Allen for his buzzer-beating game-winner in Game 2.
After botching two free-throws in crunch time of Game 1, the Point God looked mortal. Playoff Paul came back to life in Game 3.
Paul burned the Dubs for eight points in the final three minutes. His solid on-ball defense forced Curry into a tough miss that ended the game.
CP3's crunch time performance was even more impressive considering his hamstring injury and 100 degree fever.
Grantland's Andrew Sharp commented on the Clippers' potency of an effective Chris Paul (via Grantland.com):
If Griffin takes over for the entire game, there’s still Playoff Paul looming to wreak havoc at the end of close games. And that’s what should make the Clippers terrifying to the West.
Preparing to enter a hostile Oracle Arena for Games 4, Lob City will look to its leader to manufacture points and keep the rest of the team at ease.
CP3’s capacity to take over when it counts will dictate this team’s crunch-time performances.