When the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers advanced to the semifinals of the 2012 NBA playoffs, I knew the Clippers were over matched.
I didn’t think LA would get swept, but the Spurs were on an impressive run and the Clippers didn’t have what it took to beat their foe. The Clippers’ defense fell apart and couldn’t get good looks against the Spurs’ great defense.
This statement isn’t an excuse, but truth: Chris Paul was banged up, Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe were out with injury. This means they had Mo Williams and half of Paul to face a team that has been elite for 15 seasons. A LA seven-game series victory was never going to happen against these odds.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this season will be much different.
In the regular season, I can see the Clippers taking as many games as they want or the Spurs doing the same thing. If one star player on either squad has a bad night, the opponent has the cogs necessary to win a game.
The Clippers bolstered their lineup with Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf.
Blake Griffin is only entering his third NBA season and is already a top 20 player and a double-double machine.
Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups played well together last season, but didn’t get to play side by side for too long because of injuries. Both players are healthy and are ready to prove they can co-exist as one of the smallest backcourts in the league.
Caron Butler, Hill and Barnes give the Clippers the opportunity to come at a team in three different ways with their wing play. Butler can run the floor, Hill is a master mid-range shooter and Barnes can drill the open three-point look made by Paul’s penetration and passing. All three of them are good defenders and will be a tough match-up with anyone in the league.
DeAndre Jordan still has a lot to prove offensively. On defense, he has proven to be a great shot blocker and a solid help defender. If the older Butler or Hill get beat, Jordan will be right there to do some beating of his own — shots.
The only reason I think the Spurs will still beat the Clippers in the playoffs is because of experience and the way Tony Parker was playing at the end of last season.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker have been in the league 15, 10 and 11 seasons, but they’ve been playing together for so long that they form one of the best cohesive units the league has ever seen. Their No. 1 spot in the Western Conference with a 50-16 record was not a fluke. They could very well do it again this season.
As much as the Spurs were Tim Duncan’s team a few years ago, San Antonio is now Parker’s domain. Parker was one of the best players in the league during the second part of the 2011-12 season, in many aspects of the game of basketball. He averaged 18.3 points per game in the regular season, but upped his production to 21.5 in the playoffs, including three 20-plus games against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
For the season he averaged 7.7 assists and had a ESPN’s John Hollinger PER of 22.o4. His stats and on-court decision making were spectacular.
As usual, the Spurs find a way to make stars out of players who are not thought highly of before dawning the black and silver. This year’s team includes: DeJuan Blair, who is a great backup for Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, who moves up to the starting small forward role, Daniel Green, and Cory Joseph.
All of these players have shown signs of brilliance and were a main key to the Spurs’ success last season.
If Leonard puts up starter’s numbers in starter’s minutes, the Spurs are going to be extremely dangerous. It doesn’t hurt that Green and Blair can come off the bench and add 15 points whenever they want.
Each time these two teams match-up I will expect great basketball and a very interesting ending. I highly doubt there will be a 20-point blowout for either team. However, when it comes down to who would advance in the playoffs, I have to go with the Spurs.
They have a great combo of experience, youth, defense and scoring that the Clippers are trying to create. If LA can tighten up the defense and earn some extra offensive possessions — maybe my mind will change. But I have to see it first.