Spurs’ Interchangeable Stars Destroyed Clippers In Game 3


Apr 24, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (L) and point guard Tony Parker (R) talk on the bench in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into last night, this series looked relatively close. Yet after a 100-73 win for the Spurs, they made a serious statement. It’s their unique use of constantly changing star power that earned them the win.

As talented as teams like the Los Angeles Clippers are, with their star studded starting fives and athletic freaks of nature, the Spurs have separated themselves from that group of NBA talent for years.

Not just for one or two reasons. Not just because they have a couple of old guys who are still managing to knock down enough three-pointers to scrape together a few wins. But for the fact that their franchise is based solely on the team.

There’s no need for a 25 ppg superstar. Because under Gregg Popovich’s rule in San Antonio, everyone is a star player. (Sorry it sounds corny, but that’s just how it is).

And after last night’s dismemberment of the Clippers, they added a major exclamation point to that statement.

Today, Tim Duncan has turned 39. For most NBA players, that would mean you’re either playing ten minutes a game, keeping the bench warm for your younger counterparts, or you’ve already been out the league for three years. Those are just mere mortals, though. The Big Fundamental, however, just keeps getting better with age.

It’s almost as though his skills in the low-post are refining as he heads to 40. Just a few nights ago in game two against the Clippers, Duncan put on a clinic, dropping 28 points on 14-of-23 shooting. Those buckets are made even more impressive by the fact that he buried them over the man who might just be the most athletic center the league has ever seen; DeAndre Jordan.

And as if Jordan hadn’t been schooled enough, he’s 13 years younger than Duncan and in his prime.

If anyone ever said Timmy’s “too old” or “it’s a problem that his road worn legs can’t lift him more than a few inches off the ground”, you’ve well and truly been proved wrong.

Apr 24, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts after a shot against the Los Angeles Clippers in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Spurs didn’t need Tim Duncan, though. They didn’t even need Tony Parker, Danny Green, or anyone else for that matter. Yes, of course they all contributed, as that’s always the way with the Spurs. However, to lead them to a complete blowout of one the league’s most talented teams and the 3rd seed in the Western Conference, it was another star that stepped up to take the lead; Kawhi Leonard.

Before even considering their bench, the Spurs proved once again this year that they’re one of the most well rounded and complete teams we’ve ever seen. Every player is selfless, everyone passes and no one plays for fame or personal accolades. To illustrate that point, you just need to look at the overall production of their roster.

More from Clipperholics

This year, they had five players (Leonard, Duncan, Parker, Green and Manu Ginobili) who all averaged at least 10 points per game. When including more guys from their second unit, the Spurs have a total of eight players who all scored more than 8 points and 11 players who averaged more than 6.6 a game. And when there’s that little reliance on one or two stars, it not only allows them to contend when players are injured, but it also means they don’t depend on a superstar putting up 25 points every night if they want a chance to win.

So, to make a comparison to their first round opponents, the Clippers had just seven players who scored more than 6 points per game this year.

When you add in the fluidity of their offense and constant ball movement as well (they ranked fifth this year in assists with 24.4 a game), it’s no surprise that the Spurs also ranked second in bench scoring with their 41.2 points per game (per HoopsStats).

With all these assets combined, the perfectly orchestrated depth of the Spurs has always held them above others.

And if the never-ending legend of Tim Duncan and their loaded rotation isn’t enough, their latest prodigy keeps on giving.

Apr 24, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) goes up for a dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard has now become a Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and soon to be face-of-a-franchise by just 23 years of age. If his 2014-15 regular season hadn’t already impressed you — where he had the best defensive rating (96.4) and led the league in steals per game (2.3) — last night was the coming out party to his coming out year.

He’s emerged as the NBA’s best perimeter defender and has become one of the most valuable players to be snubbed from the All-Star game. Not only do the Spurs perform better due to his defense, though, as their defensive rating is five points better when he’s on the floor, but their offense elevates with Leonard, as well.

The Spurs score 5.5 more points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. And to illustrate his impact at both ends, their overall point differential is +11.7 with Kawhi and just +1.2 without him.

Last night, Leonard took his stunning playoff performance to another level. He finished with a career high 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting, including 3 steals and 2 blocks — because what would Kawhi domination be without some good old fashioned defense?

What’s most impressive about Leonard last night is that he continued to demonstrate his constantly developing offensive game. He let everyone know, on the biggest stage of the season so far, that he’s rapidly becoming one of the NBA’s deadliest two-way players.

If you want more proof from this series, he’s averaged 24.3 points on 63 percent shooting, including 63 percent from three-point range.

His powerful alley-oop dunk just before the end of the second quarter matched anything that Lob City can do, and illustrated the athleticism he’s always possessed to be able to attack the rim (he made 72.4 percent of his shots within three feet this year). When you consider his expanding range as well (he took more jump shots from 10-16 feet ever this year, making 48.1 percent of them), and ability to post-up players with his turnaround fadeaway, his development as a scorer says a lot about his drive to be more than just a defensive specialist.

So after the wily veteran Tim Duncan did it in game two, this time it was Leonard who took the spotlight.

And he really made the most of it.

Apr 24, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (behind) has his shot blocked by San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili (20) in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The point is that it doesn’t even matter who steps up for the Spurs. They have so many interchangeable players, who offer so much value in different nuances of the game, that their so called “star player” changes on a nightly basis.

In game two, it was none other than Patty Mills who made two of the biggest free throws of his life with just 8.6 seconds left, in order to send the game to overtime. Then, when that extra period came, it was the legend himself, Tim Duncan, who rose to the occasion and continued to showcase his artistry in the post to give San Antonio the points they so desperately needed. And last night, in one of the Spurs’ most utterly dominating performances of the entire year, Leonard broke out as an offensive force at a level we’ve never seen before.

And that’s just this series. There’s countless instances over the years where any single player on the team has risen to the task and offered their specific skill set when needed. Whether it’s Duncan scoring 28, Mills hitting a couple of free throws, Manu making a ridiculous pass or Green hitting seven three-pointers, everyone is fundamental to the team’s success.

Now that Leonard has become a dynamic two-way player on top of all of that, San Antonio have reiterated just how formidable they can be. 

This is what gives the Clippers such a tough chance of beating the Spurs; their emphasis on team above star power. Yes, highlight plays let you break the internet. But impeccable team play as we witnessed last night breaks opponents.

More importantly, it wins championships.

Next: Clippers Fall To Spurs: The 5 Things We Learned From Game 2