NBA Playoffs 2015: 5 Questions heading into Clippers-Spurs?


Who is going to slow down Kawhi Leonard?

Not only do the Clippers have to worry about how they’ll slow down Kawhi Leonard on offense — the 2014 NBA Finals MVP is averaging 19.1 points on 54.4% shooting, 6.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.7 steals per game in his last 15 contests — they have to figure out how to create separation between Leonard and Chris Paul throughout the series.

Remember this amazing steal from Leonard on Paul to close out a game earlier this season?

An effortless steal by Kawhi’s standards, this is just one of the many instances where Leonard has shown the ability to give Paul trouble on the defensive end — he possesses the speed, height, wingspan, etc., to affect Paul in every way possible.

Ideally, screens and off-ball movement make sense when Kawhi is inevitably on Paul to free and create space between them, but that sounds much easier than actually doing it.

Can the Clippers make Tony Parker work on defense?

The San Antonio Spurs have a luxury that not many teams in the league today — or ever — have: alongside Tony Parker at the wing stands two elite wing defenders in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Against a team without an elite wing scorer like the Clippers (Jamal Crawford is that guy sometimes), this will allow Gregg Popovich to shuffle Green and Leonard in his attempt to slow down Chris Paul, leaving Tony Parker to hide defensively.

Which means Parker’s saving energy on the offensive side of the floor while his counterpart in CP3 has to deal with him. Ideally, J.J. Redick is the perfect candidate to put pressure on Parker defensively — anyone chasing Redick on defense is in for a workout — but Green could guard him leaving Parker on Matt Barnes, who has never been a dynamic offensive player outside of a few cuts here and there.

A quick solution to disallow Parker resting on defense? Playing a three-man lineup of Paul-Redick-Jamal Crawford, all of whom can attack on offense and make their defenders work, and even this puts the Clippers and Doc Rivers in a dilemma as Kawhi Leonard would be left without a capable defender to battle with him on the perimeter as Matt Barnes would be on the bench in this scenario.

Is hack-a-Jordan unavoidable?

It’d so be Pop to bludgeon the Clippers with ‘hack-a-Jordan’ throughout the regular season only to not do it in the playoffs. But most likely, especially if the Spurs find themselves in a spot where they struggle to defend the league-best offense, we’ll see a LOT of intentional fouls.

In the final two games of the season series between the two teams, Jordan averaged 15.0 free-throw attempts per game, including one game where Jordan shot a career-high 28 free-throw attempts.

The good news is the Clippers are undefeated in all games where Jordan attempts 14 or more free-throws due to the strategy is a last-chance attempt to chop down a deficit. But Pop is a man that lacks general convention. If he’s up, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the strategy used to bog down an offense that posted an 109.8 offensive rating against them this season.

February 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) moves to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Jordan, will “DPOY” Jordan show up? 

If DeAndre Jordan wins Defensive Player of the Year (it doesn’t seem likely, but who knows), he’ll be the first you where you question where he’ll show up on a nightly basis.

Because of Doc Rivers’ off-basis commentary in regards to Jordan’s ability on that end of the floor, Jordan’ defense has become quite the punchline amongst NBA fans, even if the league leader in Defensive Win Shares has seen improvement in two years under the championship coach.

But if Jordan wants to prove he’s worthy of the accolades his coach and others say he deserves, showing up against the San Antonio Spurs will be a step in the right direction as effective rim protectors have a history of making life harder on the Spurs, with the most notable being Serge Ibaka. Jordan possesses similar physical skills as Ibaka: athletic and can deter opponents at the rim due to the combination of arm length and athleticism, but

And the most obvious question: Can the bench hold its own?

The Clippers bench sucks.

For the second year in a row, there’s no beating around the bush about the situation except the bench has seen a decline in quality compared to last year’s version.

At no point does this Clippers bench need to transform into a high-powered group that scores like the Warriors and defends like the 76ers though that’d be nice. With one of the best starting fives and best sixth man’s in the league, the Austin Rivers‘, Spencer Hawes‘ and Glen Davis‘ of the world just need to keep things from collapsing when Paul-Redick-Barnes-Jordan-Griffin aren’t on the floor.

It will be interesting to see if Doc Rivers ever goes with a 5-man bench unit as, in the playoffs, minutes are tighter and rotations shorten up. For no reason should there ever be a moment where neither of the Big 3 aren’t on the floor, but even situations where one is, it’s pivotal the Clippers bench players make SOME kind of impact on the floor, whether it be offensively or defensively.

If not, it could get ugly fast in this series as the Spurs have one of the best bench units in the league.