BDL’s 2014-15 Playoff Previews: Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs

"Hahahahahahah, I'mma kill you." "Not if I get there first." (Getty Images)

How They Got Here

Los Angeles: Unburned from having to be known as the team that works for the NBA’s most onerous executive, the Clippers overcame depth and injury issues per usual to wrest the three seed out of the wicked Western Conference. Lumped in with several other Western championship contenders to start the year, the Clippers managed to overcome Blake Griffin’s rather frightening staph infection in his right elbow, one that forced him to undergo surgery and leave the Clipper lineup for 15 games.

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Just as Griffin circled the wagons the year before, point guard Chris Paul turned in an MVP-level season both with Blake and without. The All-Star ran the NBA’s best offense and managed 19.1-point and 10.2-assist averages while turning it over just 2.3 times a contest. J.J. Redick shot the lights out for most of the season, and coach/president Doc Rivers wrested capable performances from yet-again laughable crew of role players both familiar (Hedo Turkoglu shot 43 percent from long range, Glen Davis saw major minutes) and way-too familiar: Rivers traded draft picks for his son Austin midway through the season, and the younger Rivers failed to take off in his father’s presence.

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Understandable concerns about the team’s defense lingered for most of the season, despite Rivers’ pronouncements that center DeAndre Jordan (leading the league in rebounds at 15 a game while becoming the first player to shoot over 70 percent since Wilt Chamberlain) was far and away the league’s top defensive player – an argument that is shaky at best and a little embarrassing at worst once one considers the hyperbolic nature of Rivers’ statements. That defense improved considerably in the second half of the season, however, as the Clippers look to take their first title with a top-ranked offense and overall middling defensive statistics.

San Antonio: It was stereotype San Antonio performance, really, not exactly playing possum for 2014-15’s first months but still relying on a white hot run of play to end the season to strike fear into the Western Conference bracket yet again, doing so for the 54th time since the construction of the Berlin Wall. Turning in at “only” the sixth seed, the Spurs hope to recreate the magic of a sixth-seeded Houston Rocket team from two decades ago, one that won close series after close series in a similarly-packed West on its way to consecutive titles.

San Antonio wasn’t just resting its players while biding its time until the snow melted, point guard Tony Parker struggled with age and injury prior to righting his play in the final third of the season. Manu Ginobili suffered an ankle sprain after the All-Star break, and Kawhi Leonard was limited to just 31.8 minutes a contest over 64 games due to a hand injury and coach Gregg Popovich’s righteous quest to keep his players at peak form in June’s second week. Leonard’s gifts remain tantalizing, he’ll lead the league in steals by a sound margin despite playing so few minutes, and his post-up game is improving by leaps and bounds. Tony Parker wasn’t just pumping the prospect up when he called the Spurs Leonard’s team earlier in April.

Then there’s Popovich, thinking on his feet once again and taking advantage of his younger swingmen’s (including Danny Green) ability to cause turnovers and leak out onto the controlled break. The Spurs finished second in defensive efficiency once again, but it’s to Coach Pop’s everlasting credit that the team climbed to that ranking in entirely new ways with an emerging crew that supports its bulwark coach and Hall of Fame-bound veterans.


We’ve also made it this far without mentioning Tim Duncan, who turned in a superior defensive season while providing All-Star level per-minute production at age 38. The man is an absolute marvel, and he has as good a chance as any NBA superstar in leading his team to a title this year.

Head to Head

Depending on your definition of a classic, the teams may have given us one when the Clippers hung on to down the Spurs in the team’s last regular season meeting on Feb. 19, with San Antonio purposely sending DeAndre Jordan to the line 28 times (he made 10 and finished with 26 points and 18 rebounds). Tim Duncan, giddy at the thought of a slowed-down game, scored 30 with 11 rebounds in one of his better games of the year. The Clippers also beat San Antonio at home on Jan. 31 during the dregs of Tony Parker’s (2-10) shooting woes.

The Spurs took another two close games, with Parker going off for 26 on Dec. 22 in one of his better games of the season and Leonard notching the same amount in an ugly four-point early season Spurs victory.


Likely Starting Lineups

Coach Popovich reserves the right to surprise, as 12 different Spurs have taken in starts this season, not including nominal starter Manu Ginobili (who didn’t start once but averaged the sixth-most minutes per game), but health-willing he’ll likely trot out Duncan alongside Tiago Splitter, Leonard, Parker and Danny Green. Splitter remains the question mark, he missed 30 games this season with a strained right calf and was held out of Wednesday’s crucial season-ending loss to New Orleans after it tightened up on him. Rotations shorten in the postseason, but Popovich has no problem sitting all of his starters for 15 minutes of a close game – it was a killer core when healthy during the latter part of the season and should remain that way in the playoffs.

The same can also be said for Los Angeles lineup of Jordan, Griffin, Matt Barnes, Redick and Paul. That lineup gets to the line a ton, it rarely crashes the offensive boards (a Doc Rivers staple) and it stands to order whenever Chris Paul furrows his brow. Blake Griffin proved last season that he is eminently capable of running an offense through the pinch post and his passing stats this season (5.3 a game for a big forward?) are once again superb, but this is Paul’s team and for good reason – how can one argue with a top offensive ranking? J.J. Redick is also to be credited for his career year, much needed with reserve guard Jamal Crawford missing 18 games.

Key Matchups

Kawhi Leonard vs. Chris Paul


This is what everyone is waiting to see. The Clippers haven’t played San Antonio since Leonard’s late-season (healthy) ascension into the NBA’s Next Great Thing, and though Leonard may not start off on the NBA’s best point guard defensively, you can be sure the 23-year old Kawhi will be asked to hound the veteran for long stretches. Paul has made a career out of incredibly efficient, turnover-less play, and the Spurs (until this season) never used to pine for picking up steals, but something’s gotta give when someone like Kawhi Leonard suits up.

DeAndre Jordan vs. Gregg Popovich

We know it’s going to happen. Gregg Popovich is not only going to demand that his cadre of bigs (Duncan, Splitter, sometimes-starter Aron Baynes, Boris Diaw) wrap up Jordan when he attempts to bring that 71 percent field goal “shooting” mark in to the postseason, but we might see the Spurs (who once again were a top ten team when it came to keeping the hacks at home) foul Jordan intentionally off the ball.

Jordan only shot five free throws (making three) in three previous games against San Antonio prior to that 10-28 monstrosity in the teams’ first game after the All-Star break. DeAndre made just 39.7 percent of his freebies this season, and though Popovich admits he isn’t a fan of the strategy, you can’t blame the coach for going with what works.


Time vs. Time

Both of these teams have to win, now. Blake Griffin may be just 26 and Leonard won’t turn 24 until after the Finals, but these are both win-now crews that have to put something together in 2015. Chris Paul and Tony Parker aren’t going to fall apart any time soon, but the Clippers would be deadened after wasting what was just about a perfect season from CP3, and the Spurs have to strike while Parker (who turns 33 next month) is still potent. Los Angeles’ inability to add rotation help in the offseason (thanks to some win-now gobbling by Rivers as GM) and the looming potential for Tim Duncan’s retirement also come into play.

And they’re playing in the first round. Bloody hell, this West.

How the Clippers Could Win

Chris Paul has to dominate every possession. We're not saying dominate the game, as he is more than capable of acting as the contest's most destructive force even in a 17-and-9 night, but he has to run the offense as he sees fit, because the Clippers run the fittest offense in the land. You can worry about Jordan's free throws or the Spurs slacking off of Matt Barnes or pick and roll overplays by the Clippers all you want, but Paul's brilliance is the key to their series.


How the Spurs Could Win

By digging in to force the team's lacking outside shooters to play to form, the Spurs could lure the Clippers' lights-out offense into letting far too many of its role players to use up possessions. Also on that end, though Kawhi Leonard won't be securing three wraparound steals per game against the crafty Paul, length has bothered CP3 in the past, and Leonard is ready to act as annoying as he can.

Totally Subjective Entertainment Value Ranking: 10 out of 10.

Even if Popovich spends far too much time fouling Jordan, even if the Clippers continue to curse and complain at the referees, it hardly matters. These are two championship-level teams that could (hopefully) provide us with two weeks’ worth of knockout basketball. Pity that it has to end for one of them in the first week of May.


Prediction: Spurs in six.

Other Ball Don’t Lie 2014-15 First Round Playoff Previews


1. Atlanta Hawks vs. 8. Brooklyn Nets, by Kelly Dwyer

2. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7. Boston Celtics, by Dan Devine

3. Chicago Bulls vs. 6. Milwaukee Bucks, by Eric Freeman

4. Toronto Raptors vs. 5. Washington Wizards, by Ben Rohrbach


1. Golden State Warriors vs. 8. New Orleans Pelicans, by Eric Freeman

2. Houston Rockets vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks, by Ben Rohrbach

3. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6. San Antonio Spurs, by Kelly Dwyer

4. Portland Trail Blazers vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies, by Dan Devine


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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!