Clippers-Spurs Game 5 Preview: Can L.A. Keep Momentum?


Apr 26, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) drives to the basket as San Antonio Spurs power forward Boris Diaw (33) defends in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

This series has gone backward and forward throughout, with the Los Angeles Clippers prevailing in the fourth quarter to win game four 114-105. Heading into game five tonight, what are their chances of continuing that momentum?

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Their win on the road was impressive, to say the least. After being demolished in game three by the means of a 100-73 Spurs blowout, it looked like the defending champions had reached the peak of their form and weren’t going to slow down. Yet, once Tim Duncan’s vintage game had passed and Kawhi Leonard had burst out with his career high 32 point night in game three, it appears as though we may have seen everything the Spurs have to throw at the Clippers. This doesn’t mean that L.A. are the favourite now, but it does mean that perhaps this should be viewed as an even series now.

The game three blowout is over with, and it’s naive to keep believing that the Spurs will be fine and just advance by default. Because, well, they’re the Spurs. Winning championships is what they do in their sleep, right?

Well, now that Blake Griffin has been playing just shy of triple-double quality every night, and Chris Paul kick-started his postseason again with a 34 point, 7 assist night in game four, the Clippers have a few things going for them. Add in the fact that L.A. also managed to hold onto the lead when their second unit entered near the end of game four, and that they didn’t collapse defensively when DeAndre Jordan had limited minutes in the fourth quarter, tonight certainly looks promising for the Clippers.

Behind Paul, Griffin and surprisingly Austin Rivers, the Clippers shot 53.6 percent from the floor in game four, a whole 9.6 percent better than the Spurs. Paul, as usual, kept a perfect balance between a fast paced and poised offense, and continued to shoot will exceptional accuracy from mid range. Griffin kept on dominating, and recorded 10 rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, finishing with 20 points, 19 rebounds and 7 assists.

And then the bench happened.

Jamal Crawford and Rivers combined for 31 points on 61 percent shooting, and even Glen Davis contributed more than normal. He only made one shot, but his hard screens helped open up space for the Clippers’ shooters and he put in as much effort as he could on defense.

It was an uncharacteristic performance from the Clippers’ second unit, but one that was needed more than ever. Their starting five led them to having the league’s best offense this year with an offensive rating of 109.8, yet once they get to their bench, the quality of firepower diminishes.

If Rivers can contribute anywhere nearly as efficiently as he did in game four, and Crawford can keep shooting over 50 percent from the field, then the Clippers’ chances of gaining a 3-2 series lead tonight increase dramatically. Paul and Griffin have been at their best on offense for nearly this entire series (excluding game three), and with Jordan dominating the boards and a moderate boost from the bench, L.A. are looking like a formidable contender.

Apr 26, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford (11) shoots the ball past San Antonio Spurs power forward Matt Bonner (15) in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs can never be counted out, though. They’re defending champions because they excel in two areas more than anyone else; selfless team play and depth.

When it comes to the playoffs, they don’t need to count on their stars, either. The Clippers need Paul and Griffin to continue to dominate — as they have for most of the last four games — but for the Spurs, they can interchange between all the weapons they have at their disposal.

Leonard has averaged 24.8 points on 60 percent shooting during the playoffs so far, and Duncan just keeps on reminding us that at 39 years of age, he rejects father time more and more every day. His 28 points in game two turned the Spurs around after a worrying opening night to the series, and he still had 22 points and 14 rebounds in game four. Although, despite his efforts, San Antonio still couldn’t rally enough in the fourth quarter to win.

However, if the Spurs are the one team that others should have nightmares about, and they’re supposed to remain overlooked until they sneak up on everyone and claim the title again, why are they not in control of this series?

Apr 26, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) grabs a rebound against the Los Angeles Clippers in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Spurs threw everything they could at the Clippers in game four, it still wasn’t enough. Their Big 3 of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — which is now extended to the Big 4 due to Kawhi’s emergence — combined for 76 points in game four. Normally, that kind of performance would defeat any team, but the Clippers found a way to hang on.

The Spurs still don’t have an answer for Griffin’s athleticism when attacking the rim, he causes them to move constantly with his passing, Jordan is a force in the paint, and Paul proved again why he’s still the best point guard in the league.

Other than one nightmare in game three, the Clippers have made this series a far closer contest than Spurs’ fans will be willing to admit.

Returning to L.A. tonight, the Clippers starting five should be tapping into their new found aggressive mindset as much as possible. With the way this series looks so balanced, a win tonight gives them an excellent chance of winning at least one of the two final games in order to advance to the second round.

Apr 26, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) leads a fastbreak against the San Antonio Spurs in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The main decisive factor between these teams are their benches. The Spurs have depth at every position, from the likes of Boris Diaw’s all around ability to their plethora of long range guards in the form of Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and Ginobili. Meanwhile, the Clippers have Jamal Crawford and very little else. Austin Rivers stunned everyone with his 16 point, 7-of-8 shooting night in game four, but the chances of that being a regular occurrence are limited.

For the Clippers to win this series, their bench are going to have to be as reliable as possible. Crawford has to offer close to 20 points every game, Davis will need to just throw his weight around and set some screens (he does little else) and Rivers needs to remain confident. Unfortunately for Clippers’ fans, though, that’s easier said than done.

Considering how much the Spurs have attacked the Clippers with so far, and how they were regarded as clear favourites before the playoffs began, this series has remained incredibly close.

So it’s time to move past the game three fiasco now. Because the Clippers have proved that no matter what their second unit can achieve, their stars have been stepping up to the challenge. And if they continue the momentum they’ve acquired from game four and keep up their aggressive attitude, this fearless Clippers squad are more than capable of winning tonight.

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