#3 – Los Angeles Clippers
In the Los Angeles Clippers’ Game 4 road victory on Sunday, the Los Angeles Clippers finally managed to respond in a manner that is indicative of just how much talent their core group truly possesses. The Clippers answered a number of important questions in the win. Could Chris Paul find a way to shake himself free of the larger defenders the Spurs had been sending his way? Paul absolutely controlled the game to the tune of 34 points and seven assists while going 10-10 from the charity stripe. Could Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan find ways to further capitalize on what is clearly a significant advantage in terms of frontcourt mobility, agility and athleticism? The duo may have only combined to score 26 points, but they also managed to dominate the backboards to the tune of 33 overall, not to mention Jordan’s four blocks as well. Could someone other than Jamal Crawford finally show some sign of life and provide a much-needed boost in support of the main core? Part of Doc Rivers had to be brimming with pride as his son, Austin, poured in 16 crucial points on 7-8 shooting from the field.
Not one was Rivers happy because of the obvious familial connection, but also because it signified one of his mid-season transactions finally paying dividends when the team absolutely needed it most. They still weren’t great from behind the arc (just 5-18), but were on fire from everywhere else and found great scoring balance as a unit with five guys in double-figures. A Game 4 loss would have clearly placed this team in a must-win situation, but it is actually nice to see these Clippers in a rare position of power in a playoff series with a guarantee that two of the final three games (if necessary) will be played at Staples Center.
#6 – San Antonio Spurs
Much like the Clippers must have felt a bit discouraged by the two games that followed their Game 1 double-figure win over San Antonio, the Spurs have to at least feel somewhat disappointed after seeing their chance at taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series slip through their fingertips in the form of a few extra missed defensive assignments and a few more missed jumpers than usual. Tied at 2-2 and heading back on the road may not have been the most preferable situation to find themselves in, but it isn’t like the Spurs haven’t found themselves in a comparable situation in years past.
While other teams may struggle to round out the back end of a rotation, general manager R.C. Buford continues to find ways to retool and strengthen his roster around his old and trusted core group. Such flexibility has clearly played a major role in each of San Antonio’s back-to-back trips to the Finals. With Kawhi Leonard continuing to play about as close to the level that earned him last year’s Finals MVP as one could expect, head coach Gregg Popovich’s system of resting, monitoring and maintaining the health of his roster still permits these Spurs to lean upon the vets when the situation calls for it.
Popovich rode Tim Duncan’s 39-year-old legs all the way to an overtime victory in Game 2, because he trusted him to be able to play 44 minutes at this stage in the season. That’s a tremendous advantage as 40+ minutes of a rested and active Duncan is still just as good as – if not better than – most power forwards on a given night.
Who Wins Game 5?
Tony Parker has improved physically over the past couple games (18 points in Game 4), so look for Popovich to lean upon his veterans once again in support of Leonard. However, beware of the Clippers catching fire and putting the Spurs in an elimination situation.
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