Stop Sleeping on the Clippers
Perhaps no team entered the postseason with more pressure to succeed than the Los Angeles Clippers. After all, this is a team that has had the pieces to compete for several seasons now. Blake Griffin is in his fifth season, Chris Paul has been with the team for four seasons now and DeAndre Jordan is in his seventh season (and fifth as a starter). Also, they have great role players in J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford. And their head coach, Doc Rivers, is considered one of the best in the league.
Still, they didn’t receive much of a chance from national writers to compete against the defending NBA champions in their first-round series. Rivers revealed that he gave his players a piece of paper with predictions from 45 of the nation’s top sports writers; 44 of the 45 predictions had the San Antonio Spurs winning. Granted, the Clippers were not going to get much love going up against the reigning champs, but they ended up proving their doubters wrong in the end. (It should be noted that three out of five writers on Basketball Insiders picked the Spurs to win.)
More impressive, though, is how the Clippers were able to eliminate the Spurs. They took one of the most successful franchises in the league to seven games and went 2-0 when facing the possibility of elimination. Saturday night’s Game 7 was perhaps one of the best playoff games in recent memory and had it not been for “The Fight of the Century,” that game might have been the talk of the weekend.
Despite dropping three games in the series, the Clippers stayed around in two of those losses with the exception of the blowout in Game 3. More importantly, they showed maturity in how they bounced back after that embarrassing performance in Game 3 when they scored just 73 points. They responded by beating the Spurs in Game 4 to even up the series.
The team has been led by outstanding performances from Paul. Paul’s 22.7 points per game against the Spurs might be a little misleading as his seven-point performance in Game 3 hurt his average some. With the exception of Game 3, Paul was great. He scored at least 30 points in two games and dropped 27 during Game 7, and of course had the game-winning shot over two defenders with just one second remaining to seal the series win.
After their tough series against San Antonio, the Clippers had to face the two-seed Houston Rockets less than 48 hours after their Game 7 win. If there were any questions about how the Clippers would come out against the Rockets, they were answered on Monday night as they were able to win Game 1 to steal home-court advantage (even though Paul missed the contest).
Coming into the series, many wondered just how effective the Clippers would be with Paul injured and missing Game 1. It turns out they were extremely effective. In Game 1, six Clippers scored in double figures, led by 26 from Griffin and 21 from Crawford. Austin Rivers earned the start in place of Paul and scored 17 points while adding four steals, three assists and a rebound. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game was the team’s three-point shooting. The team shot just 2-of-15 from behind the arc in the first half, but caught fire in the second half and converted on 11-of-16 attempts, which tied a playoff record for most three-pointers in a half.
Griffin, meanwhile, has become a triple-double machine this postseason as he recorded two during the series against the Spurs and a third against the Rockets on Monday night. His triple-double against the Rockets was his second in a row, making him the first player since Jason Kidd in 2002 to record back-to-back triple-doubles in the postseason and the first non-guard to do so since 1968. He’s seeing the floor extremely well right now, averaging 8.1 assists per game. The 13 dimes he dropped last night were a career-high.
The Clippers have had important contributions from their role players so far this postseason and that was magnified even more on Monday night with Paul out of the lineup. Redick came up with huge shots multiple times against the Spurs, including four three-pointers in Game 7 and three more on Monday night against the Rockets. Matt Barnes has made plenty of hustle plays and hit clutch shots as well. Glen Davis energizes the team as soon as he steps out onto the court and Crawford is the team’s fourth-leading scorer this postseason. What makes it difficult for opponents is it seems like it’s a different guy each night that steps up.
The question for the Clippers now becomes, can they keep it up without Paul? Rivers provided great production in place of Paul, but has remained fairly inconsistent this postseason. He scored 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting in Game 4 against the Spurs, but followed that up by scoring just five points on 2-of-13 during the remaining three games in the series. If he can bring some consistency to the floor in place of Paul, that will keep Crawford comfortable in his role coming off of the bench, which Doc Rivers seems to like given his decision to start Austin.
It’s unclear if Paul will return to action in Game 2, but at this point it seems likely he won’t play. Paul was with the team on the bench in Game 1 and was seen coaching up his teammates throughout the contest. He was seen walking with a limp during timeouts at the end of the game, so the team might rest him again and see if he can go when the series shifts to Los Angeles.
The Clippers have handled everything that has been thrown their way up until this point, and it seems like they’re really embracing the role of underdog this postseason – at least for the time being. After 15 writers at ESPN went against the Clippers in their first series, only three of those same writers opted to bet against them again versus Houston. The Clippers have their work cut out for them over the rest of the playoffs, but they’re slowly beginning to show everyone that they can compete.
Conley to Return in Game 2?
Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley is still recovering from a facial fracture suffered in the team’s first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, but he remains hopeful to return to the court tonight in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Golden State Warriors.
“I believe I will, but I’ve believed that the last week,” Conley said on Monday, via The San Jose Mercury News. “I’m really hoping for [Game 2]. They tell me I can play once I’m ready, and I feel I’m ready to go. It’s on me, and I think I made the right decision.”
Conley participated in practice on Monday with the team and it’s been reported that the swelling around his eye has has gone down significantly. One adjustment that he’ll need to make is playing with a mask on. He said after practice that it gets “pretty hot and foggy in there” with the mask on.
“I kind of picked and chose different drills,” Conley said. “I got to run up and down a little bit with the ball in my hands and play defense, so I’m making progress. I didn’t drive to the rim too often. I did participate in a few of the defensive drills where I had to cut and go off pick-and-rolls, read the defender.”
Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger confirmed that Conley will remain doubtful for Game 2 and isn’t counting on him to return, adding that it’ll be a bonus if he does play. Joerger said it’s Conley’s call if he wants to play, once he’s medically cleared.
To intensify the hype of possibly returning in Game 2, Conley posted a picture to his Instagram account donning the mask that he’ll be wearing once he returns.
Conley has been crucial to the Grizzlies and his absence was huge in their 101-86 loss in Game 1. According to ESPN, the Grizzlies’ offensive efficiency with Conley on the floor is 113.3 versus 100.7 with him off of the court. Their defensive efficiency is eight points better with him on the court and the team shot 56.3 percent from three-point range with him playing compared to just 29.3 percent when he’s not playing.
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