Spurs coach Gregg Popovich probably won’t make Tim Duncan defend Blake Griffin full-time. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
We’ve already got a bang-up preview of the Spurs-Clippers series that begins tonight, and I’ve already given my quick-hitting prediction: Spurs in five. That prediction is based on the idea that the Clippers’ defense, merely average in the regular season, won’t be able to limit the Spurs’ league-best offense enough to win four times in seven tries. The Spurs lit up the Clippers in three regular-season games, scoring nearly 113 points per 100 possessions — about 4.5 points better than San Antonio’s overall mark — and shooting 44 percent from three-point range on nearly 25 attempts per game.
The Clippers struggled to defend the three all season, and their big men are shaky against the pick-and-roll — a deadly combination of flaws against a San Antonio team that, unlike the Grizzlies, does not offer a poor shooter or two off of which the Clippers can help.
That said, the Spurs’ status as big favorites here come with a few caveats:
• The Clippers scored 107.2 points per 100 possessions against the Spurs, a mark that would have nearly led the league, and they would have taken two of three meetings with San Antonio if not for a semi-miraculous Gary Neal game-tying three-pointer. The Spurs, surprisingly, ranked as one of the league’s worst teams at defending the pick-and-roll, per Synergy Sports. They ranked dead last in points allowed per possession on pick-and-rolls in which the ball-handler finished the play, and the Clippers have a pretty decent point guard–provided Chris Paul’s groin allows him to be something close to the usual Chris Paul. For the season, about 15.9 percent of San Antonio possessions ended via a pick-and-roll ball-handler finishing the play, the largest figure for any playoff team, per Synergy.
That probably says at least a little bit about how the Spurs prioritize defending various shot types over others, but it also suggests Paul could feast on open mid-range shots and driving lanes.
• The Clippers’ defense improved as the season went on and played well against the Grizzlies in the first round. That is partly due to a few bench players (Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Eric Bledsoe) combining for more minutes, but Blake Griffin’s rotations were also a bit zippier during some of the higher-leverage moments of the Memphis series.
• The Clippers’ other huge defensive weakness — a tendency to foul everything in sight — is not something the Spurs are especially good at exploiting. San Antonio ranked a bit below average in earning free throws, though we might see Evans knock Tony Parker beyond mid-court with a hip-check on a pick-and-roll at some point in this series. Read More…