Clippers-Spurs: Who’s come furthest since the last meeting?


Apr 30, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) and Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) battle for position for a rebound in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers have struggled to return to their usual high standards, while the San Antonio Spurs are effortlessly transitioning into a new era as underrated contenders.

Considering all that’s happened since May 2, it feels like a long time since Chris Paul hit that game seven, off-balance shot over Tim Duncan to take the Los Angeles Clippers out the first round of the 2015 playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs couldn’t have been a much tougher sixth seed to go up against, and if it wasn’t for Paul’s late heroics, who knows what the outcome of that series could have been. Yet, after a few months apart since their thrilling meeting, a lot has changed for both teams.

If you consider the question of who’s come furthest from the amount they’ve endured standpoint, the Clippers have clearly been through more. The crushing collapse to the Houston Rockets in the playoffs enforced their reputation as second round failures and served as a wakeup call that action needed to be taken in free agency.

Then that action followed and they added eight new players. It was the kind of rebuild to give them the bench they desperately needed, but in the process it also gave them a major new challenge of trying to figure out how to play together. From everyone learning their roles to experimenting with a small-ball lineup off the bench, the Clippers’ transition period from signing their free agents to beginning the season has been a rocky one to say the least.

Not to mention, the drama of DeAndre Jordan in free agency forced them to deal with the impending fear of losing their defensive anchor as a genuine shot at contending could have fallen out of reach all together.

The Clippers just managed to go 3-3 in the preseason and spent most of the early weeks of the regular season hovering around or just below a .500 record. It was to be expected with the amount of new players they had to integrate while developing new rotations and new strategies for the bench, but it’s still another way they have been set back from the Spurs.

Nov 24, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers with guard Chris Paul (3) and forward Blake Griffin (32) in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s another way in which the Clippers have had to struggle and fight back for their 16-10 record and 4th seed in the Western Conference. However, as their defense has allowed only 96.4 points per game over their last 15 contests (in comparison to 103.6 over their first 11 games) and they’ve won nine of their last 11, it’s clear the Clippers are starting to rise. That being said, it’s been far from easy and it certainly hasn’t been pretty most of the time.

Meanwhile, the Spurs have cruised to a 22-5 record as the only team who look remotely close to the Golden State Warriors.

The transition the Spurs have made into their 2015-16 campaign following their playoff elimination from Chris Paul has looked effortless. LaMarcus Aldridge has arrived to anchor the frontcourt on offense, and while he doesn’t have the same amount of field goal attempts he had in Portland, he’s still been a great fit. With 15.7 points per game on 46.9 percent shooting, his mid-range stroke and post-up game will be a perfect way to transition from the style that Duncan has had on offense. Add on his effort on defense, and there’s no denying he’s the right power forward for the Post-Duncan Spurs era.

As for another new piece to come of the bench, David West has also been another easy player to add into Gregg Popovich’s system. He took a major pay-cut just to have another shot at a championship, and he’s doing all he needs to with a modest 15.2 minutes a night. Plus, with averages of 13.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per 36 minutes, he’s making an impact, too.

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Then there’s Kawhi Leonard. Who, besides being the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has continued to emerge at a terrific rate as a potent offensive threat. He’s more aggressive as a scorer whether he’s shooting from the perimeter or posting up against smaller defenders, and with a career-high 21 points per game and a league-best 49.5 percent stroke from three point range, it’s beyond obvious that Leonard is a two-way superstar now.

And, as per usual, the ‘old guys’ have been delivering, too. Duncan is still protecting the paint, Manu Ginobili is still a valuable play maker, and Tony Parker (despite averaging only 12.7 points per game) has been incredibly efficient with a career-high field goal percentage of 56.1.

The Spurs have also taken their defense to a new level. They allow a measly 92 points per 100 possessions, and rank 1st in defensive efficiency as the 2nd Chicago Bulls are still way back at 96.2.

Essentially, the Spurs have elevated their play while the Clippers have been left trying to return to their usual standard.

Dec 12, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks with forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during a time out in the second quarter of their game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the biggest problem for San Antonio (or rather, for their opponents)? That no one has been paying attention to how great they’ve been while everyone’s been too busy hyping up the Warriors. Not that the Spurs even care, because they just go out, win, and go home. That’s that. They take care of business without drama or egos like no other team in the NBA. And, ultimately, that’s what has separated the Spurs and Clippers by this point.

The former have taken a step forward as title contenders and have new pieces set in stone for the future, whereas the latter had to rebuild their second unit and go through hard times just to try and look as good as they were already only a few months ago.

Between reaching new heights and rebuilding, both teams have come a long way.

Their reunion could be one of the best games of the early season so far. The Spurs have clearly come furthest on their revitalized journey to be top contenders again, while the Clippers, and everyone else for that matter, are simply trying to keep up.

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In San Antonio on Friday night, the Spurs can show just how far they’ve come with a retaliation and victory against the team that stole the first round from them at the last second. For the Clippers, they have the chance to prove their performance in the playoffs against them wasn’t a fluke and that they’re starting to leave their early woes behind them as they continue to improve.

What more could a basketball fan ask for?