Wow. If someone would have told you beforehand that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin would combine for 2 points in the fourth quarter of this game 7, would you have picked the Clippers to win by 10?
I will admit upfront that I totally blew my analysis of this series. I stated that the Clippers were awful defensively on the wings, and that proved to be flat out wrong, for several reasons. First of all, Caron Butler was superb defensively on Rudy Gay, which surprised the heck out of me. Secondly, Eric Bledsoe was a complete revelation defensively, and he got some important minutes not only at back-up point, but at the two alongside Paul. Based on this performance, Bledsoe is one of the best on the ball defenders in the league. And third, KMart was absolutely incredible on the defensive end, in the Ekpe Udoh role: switching out on guards, and covering the whole floor. Neither Gay nor Mayo could shake him on the perimeter, and Gasol and Randolph struggled for everything inside.
I did predict that the Grizzlies would suffer chemistry problems with Zach Randolph’s reinsertion into the starting lineup after missing the entire season. I had no idea they would be this bad, though. The Grizzlies offense was a complete mess, with Hollins never figuring out how to exploit his edge inside, and Rudy Gay perhaps unwilling to follow that agenda. The much maligned Vinnie del Negro looked like a genius in this series, completely outcoaching Hollins.
Please note that Lacob target DeAndre Jordan averaged about 20 (horrible) minutes in this series, and that the Clippers came out on top playing small, with Griffin and Evans at center in crunch time. Yes, you can win in the playoffs going “small”, as the Thunder are about to prove to the big, bad Lakers, the Heat are about to prove against Indiana, and the Celtics and the Sixers are about to prove against each other.
And I think we’re going to see a lot of small ball in this next series as well:
Spurs vs Clippers: There’s no line on this series yet, probably because of the uncertainty surrounding Blake Griffin’s knee. I expect the price to be around 9-1 favoring the Spurs. And I think the Spurs will very likely sweep, regardless of Griffin’s health.
The Spurs can do what the Grizzlies couldn’t against the Clippers: Spread the floor and hit the three. Unlike Mayo — who doesn’t have playoff length, and struggles to get his shot off — and unlike Gay — who is mediocre from three, the Spurs have a legion of proven playoff three-point shooters: Ginobil, Jackson, and Bonner. Not to mention the three point shooting wing rookies Pop added, who in the best Don Nelson mold, all have playoff length: 6-5″+.
And the Spurs can and will run, led of course by Parker and Ginobili.
I don’t think the Clippers’ defense will look nearly as good in this series as in the last. I think the Spurs will average close to 100 points a game, and the Clips will struggle to break 90.
Thunder (-450) v. Lakers (+325): I thought Kobe Bryant was amazing in game 7 against the Nuggets, in the way he unselfishly looked to set up his teammates all game long. And in particular Pau Gasol, who is a fantastic player with the ball in his hands. Kobe made the Nuggets double-team pay.
Will he continue to play this way in the Thunder series? I think it’s the only way the Lakers can win. And in my experience Kobe has never played that way before.
And will Scottie Brooks go to school on the fabulous defensive game plan that George Karl designed for the Lakers? Will he double Kobe or let Sefolosha and Harden try him one-on-one?
Lot of fascinating matchups to watch in this series, with Artest v. Durantula at the top of the list. This year’s Metta World Peace is a far better player than last year’s Artest. He’s completely healthy and in fantastic shape, and is back to playing some of the most ferocious defense in the league. Durant is in for a lot of pain, such as he’s never felt before. How will he react?
Kobe vs. Harden: Harden is really, really good. Is he old-Kobe good? It’ll be tough for me to decide whether to focus on this matchup, or on World Peace tenderizing Durant’s kidneys out of sight of the refs.
Ibaka vs. Gasol: This will look like an utter rout, unless Kobe continues to set up his teammate. If the Lakers continue running the Kobe/Gasol pick and roll that was so successful in game 7 against the Nuggets, Gasol will have a fighting chance.
Popovich, Nellie and Karl could win this matchup with Gasol. Phil Jackson couldn’t. Can Mike Brown?
Bynum vs. Perkins: This should be an utter rout, and is the key to the Lakers’ chances in this series. They need to get the Thunders bigs in foul trouble if they want to win. Will Bynum show up to play in every game?
Westbrook vs. The World: The Lakers will need their whole team to keep Westbrook out of the lane. If Westbrook’s jumper is falling — and it was much improved this season — the Lakers are in trouble. But if it’s not, Westbrook will keep on shooting. I suspect that he will badly want to be the star of this series, and that could be the Thunder’s Achilles heel.
But on the defensive end, Westbrook will completely devour Blake and Sessions.
It’s pretty hard to see the Lakers coming out of this series, considering how badly they struggled against Denver. The supercharged Thunder are the Nuggets on steroids.
On the other hand, the Lakers played Denver without Metta World Peace. And I’m pretty sure they tanked the middle games of the Denver series so that they’d have MWP back to start this series against the Thunder.
So maybe this series will be more competitive than the line suggests. It will be fun to watch, regardless — clearly the best series of the second round.
Let’s drop the puck.