#3 – Los Angeles Clippers
Regardless of how Game 7 turns out, the Los Angeles Clippers deserve a ton of credit for being the only team to not only beat the San Antonio Spurs three times at AT&T Center this season, but also for finding a way to stave off elimination against the defending champs in a game we wouldn’t have been shocked to see them lose in years past. The same roster concerns remain, but more than anything this team showed the type of grit and maturity that we’ve all been waiting to see develop over the years.
The Clippers still only scored 15 points off the bench, but Game 6 was one of those cases where the starters were able to carry the team and come away with the impressive road victory yet again. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were able to assert themselves, and guys like Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford did just enough to help the Clippers get over the hump and force a seventh game.
Outside of Chris Paul’s difficult shooting night (7-21 from the field), the Clippers were better from the floor as a team (47.5 percent), but still struggled from beyond the arc (4-18). To his credit, as is usually the case with Paul, he found other ways to contribute with 15 assists and four steals, not to mention a timely bucket or two.
#6 – San Antonio Spurs
These teams may have significantly different rosters and styles of play, but the playoffs are all about match-ups and clearly these two teams are very evenly matched in terms of overall effectiveness. That has made for an excellent series between two very good teams.
If there is a team in the NBA that could fearlessly enter an opponent’s building facing elimination in a Game 7, you’d imagine the back-to-back Western Conference champions would be that team. The Spurs know they’ll be in for an all-out dog fight as they try to steal yet another game in Los Angeles, but this is a core that has been through plenty of wars together in the past.
Tony Parker may still be somewhat slowed due to various leg/foot issues, but the Spurs can ill-afford to see him severely outmatched in what will be the biggest game of San Antonio’s season to date. Tim Duncan has certainly answered the call and been great throughout the series, but the team will probably need to see him at his best if they stand a chance at stealing another one. Much like Blake Griffin needs to play as though he truly believes he’s the best player on the court for the Clippers, the Spurs absolutely need Kawhi Leonard to put together one of his dynamic efforts on both ends as well. He can’t just be solid in this elimination game – Leonard must be that transcendent player we watched during last year’s Finals and at times this season on both sides of the ball for San Antonio to advance.
Who Wins Game 6?
Something tells me this is finally the year where the Clippers put together their best efforts in precisely the game and moment when they need it most. The Spurs won’t go down without a fight and would gladly play the role of road spoilers while ripping the collective hearts out of Clipper fans both new and old, but this L.A. core appears ready to rewrite their own narrative. The Clippers will advance.
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