The Los Angeles Clippers looked nothing like underdogs in game 1 of their playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs, beating the defending champions 107-92, as Aron Baynes got humiliated not once, not twice but three times by some vicious dunks from Blake Griffin while Chris Paul carried on with his fantastic form.
The meeting of the league’s hottest teams in the last three weeks of the season (combined record is 23-3) gave us the Clippers liking their underdog status, despite having home court advantage and the number three seed. It seemed that it helped them generate some energy in the second half as they pulled away from the Spurs who found it difficult finding the right lineup to slow things down in the second half.
The Spurs shot just 36.6% from the field, including a lot of open shots missed, but the Clippers did make some big plays on defense. DeAndre Jordan was fantastic in his timing and positioning under the basket, finishing the game with four blocks. Blake Griffin, who was picking on Baynes all game long, got three rejections, including a big one against the Australian center, leading to another efficient fast break by Chris Paul.
Paul was in his superstar mode. He was moving quicker than lightning most of the times, as the Clippers forced the Spurs into unfavorable matchups, including Boris Diaw somehow trying to keep up with a lightning fast point guard. Paul led the Clippers with 32 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, leading the Clippers to score 23 points on the fast break, which seemed to be the breaking point for the Spurs.
San Antonio weren’t bad all game long, but their defense held up in the first half, and stopped in the second one. Kawhi Leonard and a bunch of subs couldn’t slow down the Clippers’ running, which ended up in Blake Griffin posterizing Aron Baynes three times. No alley-oops. Just quick Griffin moves, leaving him one on one with the Aussie big man who can’t compete with that kind of brute strength in the air.
Griffin scored 26 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and finished with 6 assists. While the Spurs don’t mind the fast pace, it doesn’t really help them when they don’t hit 3-pointers. The Clippers shot 10-of-18 from beyond the arc and 51.3% from the field. A lot of good looks, a lot of quick basketball, a lot of confused Spurs players who seemed to be a bit off their game, never narrowing the lead to anything less than nine points in the second half.
This wasn’t a perfect game for the Clippers, but they’re not going to play much better than this. Now is the time to see what the Spurs have as a counter punch. A different rotation and minutes by Popovich? Telling Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili to stop shooting the ball so much (5-of-22 from the field combined)? If they can make this into more of a half court series, their pre-series talked about advantages can begin to show once again, but not if this is going to be about running back and forth. The Clippers aren’t that great shooters, but they can keep up with everyone in this league when it comes to coast to coast basketball.