With the Clippers down 0-2 in their second round series with the San Antonio Spurs, the West's top team, Saturday afternoon's Game 3 at Staples Center is imperative.
It's something Chris Paul talked about in the locker room following Thursday's 17-point loss in the Alamo City. "If we lose one of our home games [Saturday and Sunday], we're in trouble," he said.
On one hand, the Clippers' performance in San Antonio could be viewed as discouraging. They were out-scored by an average of 16.5 points and allowed 23 3-pointers in two games. But at the same time they hung with San Antonio through long stretches in both games despite subpar performances from Paul and forward Blake Griffin.
According to shooting guard Randy Foye, the Clippers aren't panicking because the Spurs merely held serve. "They did what they were supposed to do and took care of their home court," said Foye, who finished Game 2 with 11 points and three makes from behind the 3-point line. "Now we have a back to back on our floor and we need to take care of our home court."
It sounds simple. The Clippers are 2-1 in the postseason at home with a scoring differential of +5 in the Memphis series. In their only regular season game against the Spurs at Staples Center it took a miraculous shot from Gary Neal following a botched inbounds play and overtime for San Antonio to walk away with a three-point victory.
However, with their "Big 3" playing at All-Star levels, a bevy of 3-point shooters, and the additions of Stephen Jackson and second-round surprise Boris Diaw, this Spurs group has won 16 games in a row dating back to April 12.
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Spurs 105, Clippers 88 (Spurs lead series, 2-0): San Antonio scored 27 of the first 39 points of the game Thursday and the Clippers were forced to play up hill from there. It didn't help that Paul struggled with protecting the ball for the second straight game. He turned it over eight times and made just four of his nine shots for 10 points, coming on the heels of a six-turnover, six-point game on Tuesday.
"He's [Paul] trying to make plays," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "San Antonio corralled him in certain areas. I don't really worry about that with Chris. He'll get loose here soon and we need him too. He was trying to make plays for us but he got on offensive foul and a couple turnovers that way. He lost the ball a couple times, which is very unusual for him. He'll bounce back."
Griffin led the Clippers with 20 points and the bench once again provided a jolt to nearly pull L.A. even in the second quarter. Kenyon Martin had seven points and three blocked shots, Mo Williams was 3-for-3 from the field with nine points, and Nick Young continued his 3-point assault, making 2-of-3, and scoring nine points in 18 reserve minutes.
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan carried San Antonio with 40 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, and five steals combined. But they also got double-digit scoring from four other players, including Diaw, who was 7-for-7 from the floor for 16 points.
"Timmy [Duncan] had a huge game," Parker said. "They tried to take me out of the game once, so I tried to be patient and make sure I get my teammates involved. The first half they did the same thing, they played on the pick and rolls and tried trapping me. I thought Boris did a good job of being the point guard. When they trapped me I gave it to Boris and he finds shooters." RECAP
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One or the other or both. In Game 2 the Clippers allowed San Antonio to shoot 10-for-25 from 3-point range, which at 40% accuracy is on par with what the Spurs have done all season. But L.A. was also outscored in the paint, 50-18. The Spurs converted 17 layups or dunks as opposed to the Clippers' seven and shot a somewhat astounding 71.4% from inside 5 feet.
Moving forward in the series, the Clippers insist they have to do a better job of curtailing at least one of San Antonio's outcomes in their high pick-and-roll attack. Paul said it's not "tricky" what the Spurs are doing, it's just a matter of how well they're executing it.
"They are just ball screening all day and that is all they are doing," Paul said. "We are going to be in trouble if we don't figure out a way to stop it. They got Timmy popping for jumpers; they got Matt Bonner popping out so we have to figure out a way to contain the ball because right now everybody is eating."
Playing their pace. One thing that's been evident in Games 1 and 2 is that the Spurs are playing most of the game at their pace. Forcing turnovers and connecting from long range in transition. They are the highest scoring team in the playoffs and the Clippers have done little to slow them down so far. Prior to Game 1, Paul said the Clippers' offense is their best defense, something Del Negro has said in the past as well.
They've committed 16 or more turnovers in both games, which is uncharacteristic of the team in general. Protecting the ball and setting the pace could be easier at home and help swing the tenor of Game 3. According to Caron Butler, protecting the ball is part of it, but it also comes down to defense.
Asked how to regain control of the series, Butler said, "Get stops, get up the court and run the pick and rolls. Just get in the flow of our offense. We're great in transition. Blake, DeAndre [Jordan], getting into the pick and roll situations and drawing defenders to the paint and kick the ball out where me, Randy, Mo, Nick Young can capitalize on those opportunities."
Chris Paul vs. Tony Parker
Both superstar point guards struggled scoring in Game 1, but managed 21 assists combined (Parker had 11 and Paul 10). In Game 2, Parker bounced back, but Paul's well-documented problems continued. Part of it has been due to the way Parker and the Spurs have defended Paul, but he also insists it's a matter of making better decisions.
"I think I just have to be more aggressive and find my legs a little earlier," said Paul, who has averaged 3.3 turnovers per game in his 32 career playoff games. "I just need to be a little more aggressive, make better decisions and adjust to them keeping everybody in the paint. They are just making me find other guys and I need to make adjustments."
Paul is 10-22 in his career in head-to-head matchups with Parker (3-6 in the postseason). In their nine postseason meetings, Paul has averaged 1.9 points, 3.8 assists, 0.5 rebounds, and 1.8 steals more than Parker.
The Clippers have lost all six of their playoff series in franchise history after dropping Game 1 of a postseason set…They are 2-4 in Game 3s...The Clippers have defeated San Antonio twice in Staples Center since 2006...The Clippers are the only team in the 2012 Playoffs with four different players who have made at least 10 total 3-point field goals...They are: Nick Young (15), Randy Foye (13), Chris Paul (11) and Mo Williams (11).
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