Are The Clippers Depleted For Round 2 vs. The Rockets?


May 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Glen Davis (0), forward Blake Griffin (32) and forward Matt Barnes (22) hug after defeating the San Antonio Spurs 111-109 in game seven of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After playing with their season on the line for the last two games, the Los Angeles Clippers were able to close out the first round over the San Antonio Spurs. They showcased exactly what they’re capable of, but has it come at a price? And have they now left themselves depleted heading into round two against the Houston Rockets?

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It’s not just that they poured out every last ounce of energy to take down the defending champions in seven games. That would knock the wind out of any contender’s sails. It’s the fact that the Clippers’ primary weakness — their bench — forced the starters to play as many minutes as they could throughout the series and they’ve had just two days to recover. They may be one of the league’s most well conditioned and athletic starting fives, but their first round battle to the death could well leave them showing some signs of fatigue in their first game against the Rockets tonight.

Or, if they come out with some strong, opening night energy in game one, the playing time they’ve racked up may carry over into the latter stages of this series instead.

J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan played 39 and 36 minutes per game against the Spurs, respectively. That’s a fair share of playing time to say the least, and it still wasn’t as much as the one-two-punch of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The Clippers’ top two stars both averaged over 39 minutes a game, including 41 from Griffin.

It may seem like Doc Rivers pushed his key players too hard, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Due to the Clippers’ lack of depth when you look past Jamal Crawford, and the strength of their opponent in the Spurs, it was essential that L.A.’s top talent played as much as possible.

More importantly, though, it worked.

The Clippers have left the first round by not just defeating one of the toughest sixth seeds of all time, but they’ve even advanced as far more intimidating contenders because of it.

May 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers bench players celebrate after guard Chris Paul (3) made a basket with one second remaining in the fourth quarter of game seven of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. Clippers won 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Except for the uncharacteristic blowout that was game three, the Clippers launched themselves at the Spurs with the kind of fearless aggression that ended up being a fundamental part of their victory. Griffin attacked the rim and hustled more as a rebounder than we’ve seen from him recently (he averaged 13.1 rebounds per game) and Paul played with the gritty desire to prove himself as someone who can step up in the playoffs.

And thankfully for the Clippers, it resulted in his game winning shot with just one second to go in game seven.

Just because the Clippers’ core players racked up a lot of minutes in round one, it doesn’t mean we need to start thinking the Rockets suddenly have a clear advantage.

The Clippers are an extremely well conditioned team. They’re incredibly athletic, break out in transition and they are used to playing at an intense tempo (they ranked 10th in pace this year). However, whether or not the Clippers look somewhat drained against the Rockets is something we’ll discover tonight. What we do know heading into game one, though, is that they could be depleted due to the health of Chris Paul.

Despite dealing with a strained hamstring and having to briefly leave the game at the end of the first quarter, Paul battled his way through game seven against the Spurs and put on one of the toughest and most memorable performances of his entire career. He not only recorded 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting and went 5-of-6 from three point range, he also drained the game winning shot off one leg over the towering reach of Tim Duncan.

It allowed the Clippers to win the game 111-109 and provided us with a defining moment of Paul’s career, to go along with the countless assist titles and All-Star appearances.

May 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) makes the game-winning shot over San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) in the fourth quarter in game seven of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Clippers won 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

CP3’s heroics aside, though, has the first round left the Clippers wounded as they prepare to take on the Rockets?

Per CBSSports, Paul is currently regarded as “questionable” for game one tonight. He passed the MRI, but is likely going to be a game time decision. If he can’t play, then it’s obviously a major loss for the Clippers. Through his own scoring and assists this season, Paul was responsible for 42.9 points of the Clippers’ offense. We saw again just how fundamental he is to running the team and securing the perimeter on defense against the Spurs, so there’s no point trying to ignore the significance of his potential absence.

If he does have to sit tonight, Jamal Crawford will see an increased role as the primary ball handler and even more of the offense will run through Blake Griffin. He’s easily the best passing power forward in the league, and his 7.4 assists per game against the Spurs’ 3rd ranked defense emphasized just how effective he is when operating from the top of the key.

In regards to the playing time the Clippers’ endured in round one, it’s not as worrying as it looks. Both Paul and Griffin played 35 minutes per game this year anyway, so it’s not like five more in the playoffs — when they’re even more driven to grind to the last second — is going to prevent them from continuing their elite performance. And if there’s one starting five in the league who can endure heavy playing time and keep playing with intensity, it’s the Clippers.

The loss of Paul, however, is another story. He’ll be instrumental for the Clippers’ defense as they hope to contain James Harden, and as he proved once again versus the Spurs, he is one of the best floor generals the league has ever seen.

If he’s unable to play tonight, then the advantage for game one has to be given to the Rockets. If he is able to play, though, and he’s at least close to full health, then there’s no reason why the Clippers don’t have a good chance of winning in Houston tonight.

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