Is it time to start thinking of the Clippers as favorites to win the title?
Before the 2015 postseason even started, the Clippers were facing a multitude of pressing questions. Would this finally be the year that Chris Paul would carry his squad to the Western Conference Finals? Would the Clips be able to dispatch the reigning champion Spurs in a brutal Round 1 draw? Would their lack of a bench presence act as a death knell to their championship aspirations?
Thus far, the Clippers have challenged those questions through stellar play. Their offensive rating of 107.3 leads all Western Conference teams in the postseason. The second unit has still struggled—particularly Jamal Crawford, who is shooting just 36.8% from the field and a hideous 23% from three-point range—but the starters have done more than enough to prop up that shortcoming against elite competition.
First and foremost, star power continues to steer the Clipper Ships in a positive direction. Their two All-Stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, have been nothing short of phenomenal.
The Blake Show and CP3
By averaging 25.2 points, 13.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game in the playoffs, Griffin is the only player since Oscar Robertson in 1963 to average at least 25/13/6 in a postseason setting. When you’re mentioned in the same breath as “The Big O,” you’re doing something very right out on the basketball court.
Griffin has attacked the glass with fervor on the defensive end, upping his rebounding average in a big way compared to the regular season. He’s notched three triple-doubles this postseason, and he averaged 30 points, 14.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists in the two games when CP3 was sidelined with a hamstring injury.
His elite post play and rebounding is to be expected, but Griffin’s playmaking abilities and alter ego as a capable point forward have been really impressive. He’s only making one-third of his field goal attempts in the fourth quarter throughout these playoffs, but the overall package has been tremendous for Doc Rivers.
As for Paul, he’s continued to act as a brilliant offensive maestro that fans sometimes take for granted.
Since committing six turnovers in an ugly 100–73 loss against San Antonio in Game 3, Paul hasn’t coughed the ball up more than twice in any game. His ability to dish out assists while also protecting the ball is absolutely uncanny. When the level of competition is as high as it’s been in the 2015 playoffs, sometimes limiting miscues can mean all the difference. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that CP3 has been scoring at an above-average clip from just about everywhere on the floor during the postseason.
Paul’s leadership, particularly in the gutsy Game 7 win against the Spurs when he was gritting through injury, has fueled the Clippers to play arguably their best basketball of the season at the perfect time.
While Griffin and Paul have accounted for approximately 42% of their team’s points and 65% the roster’s assists in the playoffs, the other core member of the starting five (DeAndre Jordan) has continued to make a gigantic impact.
Jordan has no doubt been a hindrance at the free-throw line, where he’s shooting just 42.4% for the playoffs, but it remains abundantly clear that the Clippers are a vastly superior team with D.J. on the court. Their offensive rating is 5.2 points per 100 possessions better with Jordan, and they’re holding opponents to about a point fewer with the athletic big man as well.
He’s notching playoff career highs in points, rebounds and assists per game. On the glass, Jordan has failed to reach double-digit boards just once in 12 games. His adventurous trips to the charity stripe (and overarching talks of potential rule changes) have overshadowed an otherwise spectacular showing.
Dukies Getting It Done
Griffin, Paul and Jordan form a three-headed monster in Los Angeles. When they’re firing on all cylinders, the Clippers are a very tough team to beat. But when role players like J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers are wreaking havoc as well, opponents can just forget about getting the W.
Crawford hasn’t been able to shoot the ball into a swimming pool from long range. Matt Barnes has scuffled as well (29.4%). But Redick and Rivers have both been cashing more than 40% of their long-range looks. The offensive spark they’ve been able to provide makes defenses honor them, and thus opens up more space for Paul and Griffin to operate.
Redick has frequently dealt with injuries throughout his career, and Rivers’ tenure in the pros was up against the ropes before his dad acquired him via trade and confidently thrust him into the playoff gauntlet. Consistent contributions from these two wasn’t exactly anticipated, but they’ve shattered expectations by shooting the ball with confidence.
Even with that ever-present lack of depth, the Clips are proving they have enough talent to compete with anyone. If they manage to dispatch the Rockets, after sending the mighty Spurs packing, the Clippers may overtake the remaining teams as championship favorites.
More from Ben Leibowitz:
- Every NBA Team’s Best Point Guard in History
- Ranking NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award Winners
- NBA Upstart Teams with the Brightest Futures
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