If someone told you in the preseason that the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers would square off in the playoffs, you probably would have assumed it would come in the Western Conference Finals.
Well, it’s not.
Instead, it’s coming in the first round. The Spurs, the defending champions searching for a sixth title, and the Clippers, who won 14 of 15 to close the season, square off Sunday in Game 1 at 10:30 p.m. ET, only one game having separated them in the standings.
This, quite simply, could be a classic.
“Well, Doc Rivers has been saying for the past six weeks, ‘I don’t really care who we play. I’d like to have home-court advantage. I think we can beat anybody in the Western Conference in a seven-game series, so bring them on,’” Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Well, they brought them on all right. It’s the San Antonio Spurs, a ball club that early in the season . . . spanked the Clippers pretty good. I think there was kind of a feeling of concern: Can we possibly match up with these guys? Then the last two games the Clippers absolutely handled them – and in the last meeting handled them without Blake Griffin being available. So the ball club really goes into the series very confident that they match up fine with the Spurs. They have great respect for their championship pedigree, but there is no fear in the hearts of the Clippers, believe me.”
The Clippers’ fate, as usual, rests in the hands of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Griffin has fared well since returning from a staph infection in March. He went off for 40 points in a loss to Golden State and in April averaged 20.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game. Scott Ferrall, for one, has been impressed with Griffin’s toughness. He seems to get beat up every night, but he still finds a way to produce.
“It’s kind of reminiscent of the old days when Shaquille O’Neal was playing,” Lawler said. “Shaq took that kind of a pounding each and every night – and Blake takes it. (He) tries to dish it back as much as he can without getting any retaliatory foul or technical foul or getting into a scuffle that would wind up getting you taken out of the basketball game. But Blake gives as well as he receives. He’s a very physical player.”
Paul, meanwhile, is arguably the best point guard in basketball, but he’s never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. Will this be the year the Clippers finally break through?
“If the club doesn’t, it won’t be Chris Paul’s fault, believe me,” Lawler said. “This guy is a winner through and through. He’s one of the great clutch players. He’s one of the most motivated players I’ve ever been around. He is a winner form start to finish. J.J. Redick said something a couple of week sago. He said if Chris Paul ever wins an NBA championship – and J.J. thinks they got a real chance to do so this year – but he said if this guy wins a championship during his career in the NBA, he will go down as the greatest point guard of all time. Now, this is a city that has had some pretty good point guards. One of them was named Magic Johnson. J.J. is a basketball historian. He’s aware of all that. But that just is the kind of feeling he has about how good Chris Paul is. I do believe he’s one of the three or four best point guards to ever play the game.”