NBA Playoffs 2015, Clippers-Spurs: Battle Of The Benches


Jan 31, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Cory Joseph (5) fouls Los Angeles Clippers power forward Spencer Hawes (R) on a rebound during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers have their work cut out when it comes to their rotation, because unlike the San Antonio Spurs, they haven’t won multiple championships based solely off of depth and team play. Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, on the other hand, have done just that year in and year out. They have depth at every position, and everyone plays within their own specific role. Combined with the leadership of Pop and Tim Duncan, even the young guys look like road worn veterans at times. Meanwhile, things in L.A. aren’t quite the same.

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Per, the Spurs ranked 2nd in the NBA this year in bench scoring with 41 points per game. Yet the Clippers are way down in 22nd place with 30.4 points. What makes this difference even more glaring is that if it wasn’t for Jamal Crawford and his 15.8 points per game, the Clippers’ second unit would be even worse.

The Clippers’ frontcourt are going to be a serious threat to the defending champions, though, whilst the backcourt battle is going to be hard fought every second. Chris Paul versus Tony Parker will be a relentless matchup, and with the constant movement of Parker on offense as he weaves his way round defenders while attacking the paint, CP3 needs to be ready to run. But Paul will fight back on offense just as much, and as a four time All-Defensive First Team player, Paul is going to give Parker hell.

Which is where the real difference maker of the Spurs comes into play; Mr Kawhi Leonard.

That’s another story, though. This particular article is going to focus on breaking down the importance of each bench, and just how worried the Clippers should be about their second unit.

Apr 1, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) drives to the basket against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. San Antonio Spurs defeated the Orlando Magic 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

First off, the guards.

The Spurs ranked 5th in assists this year with 24.4 a game. Furthermore, the constant ball movement that Popovich has employed resonates just as strong on the bench as it does with Duncan and the starting five. Unlike the Clippers, the Spurs have well versed and experienced ball handlers coming off the bench, with the kind of poise that is essential during a playoff series of this magnitude.

It’s another member of San Antonio who seems to defy age; the 37 year old Manu Ginobili.

His passing ability is more creative and fluid than most players in the league, and it’s only because he plays just 22.7 minutes a game that he doesn’t receive more recognition. His 6.6 assists per 36 minutes is impressive, considering that the ball is always moving in Pop’s offense. The Spurs’ assist percentage (baskets created from a pass) even increases by 7.4 percent whenever Ginobili is on the floor.

So who do the Clippers have to counteract and prove themselves as a true contender?

Well, they have Austin Rivers.

It’s safe to say that most of us would rather have some Manu magic instead.

And speaking of the Clippers’ backup guards, there really isn’t much to look at. Rivers records just 3.1 assists per 36 minutes and the Clippers’ ball movement with Rivers just isn’t comparable to when Paul is running the point. With no playoff experience, he is by no means a safe option to run the half court offense with. Especially with Leonard lurking on the perimeter waiting to seize the ball at any moment. Meaning that against an opponent as tough as the Spurs, their offense will have to operate through Blake Griffin from the top of the key.

Other than Jamal Crawford — who can still heat up in a hurry and can burn anyone with his ball handling and quick pull-up jumpers — the Clippers are seriously lacking depth in their backcourt. Guys like Dahntay Jones, C.J. Wilcox and the newly arrived Lester Hudson just won’t (and shouldn’t) get minutes. They don’t bring much to the table and don’t have playoff experience.

The real problem is that the Spurs are armed with a plethora of guys with playoff minutes under their belt and dangerous three-point shooters such as Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli (who both have career three-point shooting marks of more than 39 percent).

It’s worrying for L.A. fans, to say the least. So either Rivers is going to need to play out of his mind or Crawford is going to have to play close to 30 minutes a night, because a lot of the load is going to rest on Paul and J.J. Redick.

Mar 24, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Boris Diaw (33) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and guard Patty Mills (8) celebrate during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Spurs 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the Clippers’ bench does little to offer much hope, either. Glen Davis has produced just 4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12 minutes per game this year, and that’s just the beginning of it. As much as we all love Big Baby Davis for the character he is, he just slows down the Clippers’ offense way too much.

When he’s off the floor, L.A. (who had the NBA’s best offense this year with 109.8 points per 100 possessions) put up 117.1 points. Pretty good, right? That’s the kind of performance that might be able to torch the Spurs in order to gain some wins. But when Davis is on the floor, that rating plummets to 98.6.

Sadly, he doesn’t exactly live up to the name “Lob City”.

Hedo Turkoglu has been relatively efficient this year, making 43.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc as well as not slaughtering the Clippers’ offense to quite the same extent as Big Baby. However, he still won’t receive many minutes and his lack of rebounding and rim protection (averaging a measly 5.1 rebounds and 0.4 blocks per 36 minutes) is a flaw that Blake and DeAndre Jordan will have to make up for.

Spencer Hawes is capable of being a highly effective all-around big man, who can stretch the floor and serve as a rebounding presence inside. Although that hasn’t quite worked out for him since joining the Clippers.

Both his three-point and free throw percentages have dropped by more than 13 since 2014. That’s not the kind of shooting form you want to be carrying into the Western Conference playoffs against possibly the best sixth seed of all time.

Feb 28, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Boris Diaw (33) dunks against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at US Airways Center. The Spurs won 101-74. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs, however, have select big men who serve specific roles.

Boris Diaw is the guy who gives you a bit of everything. He can pass (4.2 assists per 36 minutes), knows his positioning on defense and can space the floor with his 32 percent shooting from deep. His main flaw is that he’s weak in the post, allowing opponents to shoot 56 percent at the rim which gives the Clippers a chance to attack with Grifffin. But as a backup big, Boris can get the job done.

Tiago Splitter (who is questionable for game 1), Jeff Ayres and Aron Baynes lack offensive skill, but offer the Spurs a great deal of size and rebounding ability. Both of which will give L.A. real trouble when Griffin and Jordan are off the floor.

And then there’s Matt Bonner. He can’t do a lot, but at least he can shoot 36.5 percent from three.

All these bench players serve a purpose, and in Pop’s system they fulfil their role, pass and just do anything they can to fit into the Spurs’ interchangeable rotation.

For the Clippers, though, Davis and Hawes are essentially just veterans who let Griffin and Jordan rest.

They’re like the old, overweight guys who tag along in pick-up basketball because you don’t have ten men.

Apr 14, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This does look like a complete mismatch, yet somehow the Clippers’ bench have had two good games against the Spurs this year. On December 22nd, L.A.’s bench scored 37 points (they still lost) and on January 31st, when the Clippers won 105-85, both Rivers and Hawes scored 11 points.

The chances of them being able to make a significant impact against playoff-level Spurs though is an entirely different story. Crawford is the only main player capable of providing a boost off the bench that’s significant enough to overcome a team as good as San Antonio. Even then, the Spurs have two elite wing defenders at their disposal in the form of Leonard and Danny Green. And one of them can be reserved for Crawford when he’s playing alongside Paul.

Doc Rivers’ side do have an edge due to their conditioning, though. As Paul, Griffin and Jordan have all played over 34 minutes per game this year, and have the speed and stamina on their side to be able to play at full pace for as long as necessary. So whilst they can push the tempo in transition — and play close to 40 minutes a night if Rivers doesn’t feel his bench are up to the challenge — they’re going to have to rest at some point.

That is when the Spurs will hit their stride.

They won’t need to rely on their superstars, but can instead go at least ten men deep and attempt to out-pass and endure whatever the Clippers can throw at them.

L.A.’s starting five are one of the strongest in the playoffs all together, and they can do some serious damage against San Antonio. But their obvious downfall is their bench. And unfortunately for the Clippers, this is where the Spurs just keep on going.

Next: Clippers-Spurs Preview: The Battle Of The Frontcourt