The Clippers and Spurs tipoff Game 1 in San Antonio Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. PST. To help get you up to speed, Clippers.com talked about the matchup with a Western Conference front office executive as well as an advance scout for an opposing team. Here's a look at how they break down the Spurs and the series. While many pundits have predicted the Spurs will dominate, our consultants both anticipate it will be a much longer series than expected.
SAN ANTONIO STARTERS
"When players come to San Antonio their personalities seem to change," the scout said.
NOTES ON SAN ANTONIO
Defensively: "They're very aggressive defensively. In pick and rolls they push everything towards the baseline," the executive said. "They know their system, their routine. Listen, coach [Gregg] Popovich is one of the best in the game, if not the best. They've drilled the rotation into these guys and they're a phenomenal rotating team. They help each other. They help the helper. It's constant rotation. They're on a string. One man moves, the other four react."
The executive thinks the Spurs will start with Duncan on DeAndre Jordan and Diaw guarding Griffin and the scout said they will force Griffin to prove he can make shots from the perimeter. "San Antonio will not play the pick and roll that aggressive," the scout said. "They won't always pick up 3-point shooters and they sometimes let mid-range shooters free." He added that Popovich's biggest point of emphasis is to contest everything.
Still, the scout said San Antonio will give up some threes because of the way they play the pick and roll. "I don't think they're going to be out there hedging Paul too much on the pick and roll. Duncan will play off the screener because Blake and DeAndre aren't great mid-range shooters." That defensive strategy, according to the scout, could allow Paul to get free for a lot of mid-range jumpers at the elbow and free throw line extended.
Offensively: "They play a high-octane offense," the executive said. "They were second in the league in scoring this year, which is kind of a departure for them because they used to be a strong defensive team. They're dangerous and explosive." The scout agreed, saying, "These guys have such a great system. Their 3-point shooting, floor spacing."
The executive pointed out that the 3-point shot comes from their transition game and with the pick and roll and the way teams defend it. "It's important for them to hit their threes," he said. "It's a key in terms of defending the 3-point line."
A team so good at the pick and roll game makes stretch big men more deadly, the executive said. "You've got to help on the inside on the roll guy and right then and there they find their open shooters and they're going to drill these open shots."
The key to the transition game, from the executive's point of view, is having playmakers like Ginobili and Parker.
With Ginobili and Parker out there, he said, "You have two play makers on the court that can run the offense that makes a huge difference. They can both initiate the offense, they're both great in pick and roll, they play very well off of each other. We're talking about a core that's been together for 11 years and won three titles together. It's a tough challenge."
MATCHUP WITH CLIPPERS
The scout said he was impressed with what the Clipper showed against Memphis, which he suggested could go a long way in boosting their confidence facing a championship organization like San Antonio.
"They out-grinded the Grizzlies," he said. "It was the best series by far in the first round, a real dog fight. The grit they showed playing through injuries could be a great boost of confidence and is something they can keep building on."
He said Game 1 could be there for the Clippers to steal because "San Antonio is well-rested and sometimes that can cause a problem. We'll see how in-tune they are."
Still, he said Popovich has "an unshakeable faith in his players." And that Popovich always wants his teams to fear their opponent enough to know if they don't play hard they're going to get beat. He also cited the 14-game winning streak of the Spurs as proof that they're peaking at the right time.
Both the scout and executive thought that Blake Griffin's health will play a role because he presents a matchup problem for San Antonio's front court. "Blake's a tough cover, no matter who you are," the executive said. "So his matchup with [Diaw] could be something [L.A.] looks to exploit." According to the scout, the Spurs are likely to "make Blake prove he can make jumpers."
"I've always felt like the toughest guys for him to go up against are guys like Pau Gasol or Tim Duncan," he continued. "Even as athletic as he is, he has trouble with length." The executive thought the Clippers' front court as a whole could be problematic for the Spurs. "I think they have to worry about the Clippers' speed and their front court," he said. "DeAndre [Jordan] is an athlete, Blake's an athlete, Kenyon [Martin] is unbelievable, Reggie [Evans] is coming off an amazing series. They've got to be concerned."
The matchup of the series is likely Parker and Chris Paul. And both consultants agreed that both All-Star point guards will try to create plays by getting into the paint. The executive said it will be "critical" for the Clippers to prevent paint penetration from Parker and that the best way to do that will be to control the pace of the game. As for Paul, the scout said, "He has the ability to win close games and I think there will be some close ones in this series. It won't be a sweep as a few people have predicted. [It will go] six games, maybe seven."
Overall, the scout said there are four keys to the series for the Clippers: the bench play, transition defense and defending the 3-point line, free throw shooting, and making shots from outside. Arguably, the most important factor, he said, will be the bench. "If the Clippers bench plays a lot like they did in the last series. They're going to give San Antonio some problems. The bench will have to show that grittiness. They're deep. Kenyon Martin could start for a lot of teams. Mo Williams could. Reggie Evans started for Philadelphia and Toronto at times. And Nick Young's another guy who's a starter."
Final thought: "The Clippers are resolute. I don't think it will be as high-scoring as expected. It will be another grind it out kind of series."
SEASON SERIES RECAP
Here's a look at how the team's fared against each other in the regular season. Note: The season series is not much of indicator of how the postseason affair will play out. Nick Young, Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw did not play in any of the three games, while Kenyon Martin, Mo Williams, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili missed all or parts of at least one game.
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