Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spurs Shoot the Lights Out of Lob City

Preseason games showed glimpses of it. The first half of the season opener showed even more glimpses of it. By the second game of the season, glimpses had turned into a stark reality, as the San Antonio Spurs manhandled the Clippers in a 110-95 loss for the residents of Lob City.

First and foremost, the Spurs nearly outplayed the Clippers in every area:

3-PT Shooting
Clippers: 7/20 (35%)
Spurs: 10/19 (52.6%)

Field Goals
Clippers: 29/74 (39.2%)
Spurs: 45/80 (56.3%)

Free Throws
Clippers: 25/33 (75.8%)
Spurs: 15/15 (100%)

Clippers: 17
Spurs: 27

Clippers: 30 (20 Defensive)
Spurs: 43 (37 Defensive)

Clippers: 5
Spurs: 1

Clippers: 8
Spurs: 3

Just by looking at the stat-line, then comparing it to the raw talent on the Clippers lineup, it’s clear that there are some serious flaws in the dynamic of the Clippers that were apparent when matched up against the Lawler-described “well-oiled machine” that is the Spurs. To be fair to the Clipps, when an opposing team shoots over 56% from the field, it’s always going to be pretty hard to have any chance of coming out with a win.

The issue, it seemed, was a collapse of what had propelled the Clipps to their wins against the Lakers and Warriors. In those previous games, the athleticism and youth of the team outpaced their opponents defensively, allowing the Clipps to dominate the boards, getting plenty of fast-breaks that the other teams could not effectively defend (either on the arc or in the paint).

Of course, this only works when shooters are actually making shots, which was not the case on Wednesday versus the Spurs. “The House of Pain,” as Ralph Lawler called it, once again offered the Clippers a nice dose of humility and defeat. Without the rebounding or fast-breaks, Clippers shooters had few open looks, and made even less shots. It was clear that by the 3rd quarter no Clipps shooter had any confidence in his shot, with even CP3 passing up seemingly easy mid-range jumpers.

What the box score doesn’t show is how poorly Griffin and Jordan defended the paint. Neither of them boxed out the older, slower Spurs big men. Without these boxouts, they got few rebounds, few open looks while on offense, all of which exposed their lack of cohesion as a team, both offensively and defensively.

On a positive note, the Clipps had more steals and blocks than the Spurs, which definitely hints at significant defensive effort that should lead to more offensive opportunities as the season progresses. But, steals and blocks can be misleading, and it's important for these stats not to come at the expense of having defenders out of position when the steal or block isn't pulled off successfully. 

With the huge expectations being placed on this team, it’s important to keep in mind that three of the five starting players have played three games with each other, and that Griffin and Jordan are still young, developing players. Once the Clippers learn to pass and create like the Spurs did on Wednesday, they’re going to unstoppable. With such a guard-heavy, they have plenty of players that can create—now they just have to iron out the kinks (easier said than done…check out the Miami Heat for a great example of how difficult this actually is).

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