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


There may not be a better two-to-two matchup in Round 1 of the 2015 NBA Playoffs than the battle of backcourts as the Clippers and Spurs face off in what many refer to as the best opening round series of the year.

Let’s start with the ‘smaller’ matchup of the two backcourt positions:

Outside of Kyle Korver in Atlanta, are there two shooting guards who better fulfill their roles on their respective teams than Danny Green and J.J. Redick? While Danny Green is the prototype 3-and-D player, Redick has finally transformed into the player many expected him to be after a successful season at Duke, killing teams from mid-range and from three.

With neither being elite shot creators, the emphasis of man-to-man defense won’t be huge here. Instead, discipline — and the usual make-or-miss — will be key in defending the two.

The story with Danny Green? Do not allow him to get open. We’ve seen him torch teams from beyond the arch numerous times, most notably in the 2014 NBA Finals when Green almost shot his way to a NBA Finals MVP before the final two games of the season where the Heat made it their duty to slow him down

In the four games against the Clippers this season, Green averaged 6.8 attempts per game (47.4% from three), 4.8 of which came from behind the arch and some of those attempts came from defensive lapses by the Clippers, as seen in the image below:

While Parker is a huge threat to score around the free-throw line, living with him hitting an attempt over Paul, one of the best defenders at the guard position, and DeAndre Jordan (or a contested dump down to Duncan) rather than an easy attempt by Green. Per Synergy Sports, Green finished as one of the best spot-up shooters in the NBA this season, scoring 43.8% of his attempts in the role.

Instead, the Clippers should ‘follow the book’ on Green — and most other 3-and-D guys: run him off the three-point line and make him beat you elsewhere, and the numbers support the notion: per SportsVU, Danny Green’s field-goal percentage drops nearly 15% when forced to take a dribble:

  • FG% with 0 dribbles: 47.9%
  • FG% after 1 dribble: 33.7%
  • FG% after 2 dribbles: 36.7%

Where J.J. Redick differs from Danny Green is his ability to knock down shots after being run off the line, which adds another dynamic to the league-best offense (per SportsVU, Redick shoots 50.2% after 1 dribble and 48% after two dribbles), and scoring off one — or several — screen, as seen below:

Looking back at the tape, the Spurs have generally struggled when guarding Redick BECAUSE of his off-ball movement. Kawhi Leonard, though an excellent help and man-to-man defender, struggles getting through screens to chase the shorter, more nimble guard around, and Danny Green has the usual troubles chasing a player of Redick’s talent. The Spurs’ best defense against Redick? Hope;basketball is a make-or-miss league and the drought is like the hot-hand theory in that it just happens.


And then there’s the point guard battle.

When it comes to top point guards of their generation, Tony Parker and Chris Paul stand at the top. While Paul is the superior player, being able to dominate his opposition in a way Parker has never while being just as good if not better on offense, Parker has the playoff success Paul dreams about, being a four-time NBA champion and one-time NBA Finals MVP (2007 vs. Cleveland).

Obviously, this isn’t the first time these two faced off in the playoffs, with the Spurs getting the upperhand over Paul’s team in both matchups (one in NO, one in LA). In the first series back in 2007-08, which happened to be Paul’s first time making the playoffs as an NBA player, CP3 and the then-Hornets led the cavalry against a seasoned Spurs team in the Western Conference finals. Though Paul and company fell in seven games, Paul played well, averaging 23.7 points on 50% shooting, 10.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.6 steals in the series — opposite of Paul, Parker 19.4 points on 48% shooting and 5.7 assists.

Years later, with Paul in Los Angeles, the series went by much faster as a hobbled Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were swept by the Spurs in the 2012 Western Conference semi-finals.

At this stage in their careers, Paul and Parker remain very similar players, using the pick-and-roll to attack on offense from the mid-range area — where Paul has Parker beat is his ability as a playmaker though Parker possesses the ability to make the right and sneaky pass. Via Synergy, both Parker (493) and Paul (698) rank top-15 in Pick-and-Roll possessions, and of those 15 players, the two guards shot the highest field-goal percentage (Paul – 49.6%, Parker – 50.0%).

For a better glimpse of how similar Paul and Parker are, here is a chart comparing how both operate on offense:

The biggest differences? Paul’s work in isolation trumps Parker’s while Parker’s off-screen and spot-up work trumps Paul, but in this matchup, the emphasis will be on their work in the pick-and-roll.

Looking back through the tape, Parker had a tougher time against Los Angeles’ defense out of the pick-and-roll than Paul did, partly due to the length of center DeAndre Jordan, as, seen below, can affect Parker if a switch happens.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, Blake Griffin lacks the same length — and defensive footwork — when defending the pick-and-roll and Parker has taken advantage of that, getting an open (albeit, missed) shot here:

That’s not a shot the Clippers can afford to let happen, even if allowing Parker to go off is a better solution than overhelping and allowing open threes from spot-up shooters or easy layups from cutters.

For Paul, he attacks the same, except the Spurs’ long-armed threat is Kawhi Leonard instead of a big, and a good pick could force the Spurs into a switch. From there, the decision is up to Paul: he could attack the basket, re-engage with the pick-and-roll or work into his pet mid-range jumper. Given the speed advantage Paul has over Duncan and company, either decision is a good one.

Like Redick, the Spurs’ best bet against Paul is to hope that his jump shot isn’t falling, as Paul shot nearly 50 percent against the Spurs this season with the majority of shots coming out of pull-up situations (or 71% of his shot attempts — another 22% came in spot-up situations).


Given the dynamics of this matchup, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the battle of backcourts ends in a draw, but because of the similarities between the four players, this’ll be an interesting battle to watch for AT LEAST four games.

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