Clippers Playoff Matchup Preview: San Antonio Spurs


Previous Previews:

Portland Trail Blazers

Here is part two of the Clippers potential playoff series preview, with us taking a look the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.

Team Rankings

Offensive Rating: LAC – 109.2 (2nd); SAS – 105.4 (7th)

Defensive Rating: LAC – 103.1 (18th); SAS – 100.2 (5th)

Net Rating: LAC – 6.3 (2nd); SAS – 5.3 (4th)

Team Leaders

Points Per Game: (LAC) Blake Griffin – 22.2; (SAS) Kawhi Leonard – 16.0

Assists Per Game: (LAC) Chris Paul – 10.1; (SAS) Tony Parker – 4.9

Rebounds Per Game: (LAC) DeAndre Jordan – 14.8; (SAS) Tim Duncan – 9.3

Player Efficiency Rating: (LAC) Chris Paul – 25.0; (SAS) Tim Duncan – 21.9

Regular Season Head-to-Head

Season Series Leader: Tied 2-2

Game 1: SAS 89 – 85 LAC

Game 2: SAS 125 – 118 LAC

Game 3: LAC 105 – 85 SAS

Game 4: LAC 119 – 115 SAS

Quick Thoughts

Slowly but surely, the San Antonio Spurs are looking like the team nobody wants to play in the playoffs, alongside the Cleveland Cavaliers, who just blew out the Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State Warriors who, well, blowout everybody. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but skepticism was in the air after a rough start for the champs as Tony Parker struggled, the team couldn’t sustain good health and they looked … old. Fast forward up until one month left in the season and we’re seeing what we expected to see following a championship run — one of the best teams in the league priming themselves for a repeat, something that has never happened in the Gregg Popovich era.

Unlike many of the previews that’ll take place here, there’s a possibility that this series happens in the first round. As of now, the Clippers and Spurs stand two spots from each other, with LA at the 4 and SAS at the 6. On a five-game win streak, the Clippers could jump into the three seed if the Houston Rockets fall, which place LA-SAS in a 3-6 series.

Can LA win? Let’s see.

How Los Angeles Will Win


As the second best offensive team in basketball, it’s not farfetched to believe offense won’t be an issue in this series barring an insane cold stretch from a key player. But defense? It’s number one in this matchup — no matter how good or bad Los Angeles’ bench plays, if they can’t stop the Spurs from doing what they do on offense, it won’t matter for LA.

It’s the movable force versus the immovable object. You can figure out which definition suits who.

(Check the X-Factor section for a better description of what type of defense needs to be played to get a handle of San Antonio)

How Los Angeles Will Lose

Defense, but since defense is mentioned here numerous times, we’ll focus on another key factor for the Clippers.

Throughout this series, you’ll hear this a lot, but it’s hard to see the reserves not being the downfall if the Clippers were to drop the series.

What we’ve learned about the Spurs through back-to-back NBA Finals runs is that there’s little margin for error when playing against them. What we’ve learned from the Clippers through last year’s playoffs and this year’s regular season is the bench has left the starters with room for little error.

Key Matchup

DeAndre Jordan vs Tim Duncan

Age be damned, Tim Duncan is still one of the 10 best big men in the NBA and if the Clippers want to beat the Spurs in a series, slowing him down may be their best chance.

My initial selection for key matchup was going to be Matt Barnes vs. Kawhi Leonard but I just assume this one is already decided, especially with the way Leonard has been playing in the last month or so (Leonard is averaging 18.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.9 steals over his last 15 games).

But with Duncan, making him a non-factor (or close to it) is, in a way, cutting the head off of San Antonio’s high-powered machine. Duncan’s numbers aren’t impressive compared to his prime days, but he’s still got the ball rolling, especially against Los Angeles, as the future Hall of Famer averages 18.3 points over 10 regular season games dating back to the 2012-13 season.


Again, the emphasis here is on DeAndre Jordan.

There aren’t many chinks in the Spurs’ armor, but one that has allowed a light to peak through is San Antonio’s complicated relationship with athletic players, and most notably, athletic big men.

And one big man that has given the Spurs hell on the defensive end of the floor? Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, as seen in the numbers provided below by NBA Stats:

  • (2013-14 playoffs)
    • Offensive Rating with Ibaka ON the floor: 105.9
    • Offensive Rating with Ibaka OFF the floor: 116.3
    • FG% in Restricted Area w/ Ibaka ON the floor: 52.4%
    • FG% in Restricted Area w/ Ibaka OFF the floor: 71.4%
  • (2011-12 playoffs)
    • Offensive Rating with Ibaka ON the floor: 103.9
    • Offensive Rating with Ibaka OFF the floor: 108.3
    • FG% in Restricted Area w/ Ibaka ON the floor: 54.2%
    • FG% in Restricted Area w/ Ibaka OFF the floor: 76.5%

Though 52 and 54 percent may seem high in the context of traditional field-goal percentage, it’s not in this particular instance — 54.2% in the restricted area would be the worst in the league by a team this year as Charlotte’s is worst in the NBA this season at 55.5%.

While offensively he’s no Ibaka, Jordan possesses the physical tools to attempt to replicate this effect on San Antonio on the defensive end — Jordan is athletic, fast for his size, has insane jumping abilities, and the wingspan to deter opponents at the rim.

For context, this season, the Spurs have posted an offensive rating of 108.3 when Jordan is on the floor, nearly three points higher than their season average of 105.4, while shooting 68.6% (48-of-70 in the restricted area in that time frame (143 minutes).

This won’t fly against San Antonio (or any NBA team), especially from a player who has been lauded by many as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

I must say that rim protection alone won’t get the job done — rotations on the perimeter needs to be just as crisp as Jordan’s rotations plus keeping Leonard from looking like a league MVP for 4-6 games — but everything begins and ends with Jordan in this potential series.

Prediction: SAS 4-2; while the Clippers have posed a threat to the Spurs through the last two seasons, the Clippers winning 4 of 7 vs. SAS is a “see it to believe it” scenario for me.