May 2 has long been booked for the boxing mega-fight between unbeaten Pound for Pound King Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Filipino 8-division world champion Manny Pacquiao. But while boxing fans meet in Las Vegas to witness what is being dubbed as the Fight of the Century, the NBA has its own version of a mega-fight happening tomorrow too.
The first round playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs was expected to be a classic. And why not? These teams were the two hottest teams to close the season with 9-1 records each. The 56-26 Clippers won their last seven games to finish as the third seed while the 55-27 San Antonio Spurs won nine in a row to go as high as #2 before losing to the New Orleans Pelicans in their final regular season game to fall to #6 in the standings. Had the Spurs won that final game, they would have gotten the 2nd seed instead. But past is past now and life goes on, with or without home court advantage for the defending champions. They've done well in this series, going 2-1 at the Staples Center by winning Games 2 & 5 after losing Game 1. Problem is though, they've been 1-2 at home and that's the reason why we're going to a winner-take-all Game 7 at the Staples Center.
But Can the Spurs win again in Los Angeles? Or will tomorrow mark the end of the Tim Duncan era? No, nobody's retiring for the Spurs-at least not yet. But with the injuries and the age of their stars, this season could be their last hurrah. Oh yes, we've heard that before, and each time we heard that, the Spurs just came back the following season even better. That's greatness. But then even the great ones fall to the unbeatable foe called father time at some point in their careers. Could this be it for the Spurs?
We'll help you answer that questions by previewing Game 7 of the Clippers-Spurs first round series scheduled for tomorrow. We'll also be giving you the SportHold Super Prediction score to help you make your pick for Saturday .
The SportHold Super Prediction score is based on the collated predictions of SportHold users. Our users enter their predictions in our challenges page and we come up with a set of picks based on those. Those picks become our voice- or the voice of the crowd. The more predictions we get, the stronger our voice is. Remember that there is strength in numbers. Here at SportHold though, we just don't come up with a voice, but our users compete with others in our leaderboard. We give out points to every prediction you make, depending on the accuracy. Users also get points when they test their Sports IQ at our mini-games and even get a chance to win cash prizes by predicting the exact scores of NBA games. To get you started, here is the Prediction Data for May 2 to help you out:
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This first round series is a tribute to the strength and balance of the NBA's Western Conference because these were two teams who could have easily fought for the Western Conference Finals at another year. Moreso, they could have been fighting for the NBA title if only they belonged to different conferences or if the NBA finally changes its playoff format.
These teams are so good that it's a shame to see one of them go home fishing on Sunday. But that will be the case here because whether we like it or not, there is no more Game 8 or 9. There is no more tomorrow.
The Clippers are finally looking to go over that barrier of being potential contenders because right from the moment they got Chris Paul, they were already true contenders. But the best point guard in the NBA could lead them no farther than round 2 in three tries so this game wouldn't mean much in terms of improving their playoff finish but it would be the biggest win in franchise history.
The Spurs have been the Spurs since time and memorial. They've been the same old guys we see win and win over and over again, title after title. But over the years, we've seen them lose some luster. It's just that Gregg Popovich has mastered the art of make-up that he's made them look invincible all these years. But this season especially, injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have had an effect on their season and those injuries are the primary reason why the Spurs finished at #6. Just look at these milestones and you'll see how old the Spurs really are: Tim Duncan became the first player to log 9,000 playoff minutes, Tony Parker the 8th player to play 200 playoff games and Gregg Popovich the 3rd coach to win 150 playoff games.
Beating father time is impossible, but you can slow it down. That's what the Spurs hope to do tomorrow and the rest of the way. The Spurs' trophy case is decorated with five NBA titles while the Clippers' is empty except for five basketballs which means the world to their franchise. Two of those balls represent their two Pacific Division titles while the other one was to remember their 17 game win streak in 2012. The final two balls are reminders of their Game 7 wins over the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012 and Golden State Warriors last season. And yes, because the Clippers have not advanced past the 2nd round ever, those two Game 7 wins came in the first round of the playoffs.
So don't say that the Spurs have the advantage in experience, because the Clippers have been here before. In fact, they were here a season ago. But that doesn't also mean that they've got this one secured, not even at the Staples Center because the road team has won four of the six games of this series.
Collectively, the Clippers have outscored the Spurs 615-605 in the series or a difference of 1.67 points per game. That's as close as it could get. But while both teams have nearly scored as much as the other, the manner by which they've done it is the exact opposite. The Clippers rely heavily on their stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul while the Spurs lean on their bench to give them the advantage. Over six games, San Antonio's reserves have outscored their Clipper counterparts 271-134 or an average of 26 points per game. That's huge, considering how close the series has been. But while the difference in bench scoring hasn't decided the games in this series, it lead us to our question: How tired are Blake Griffin and Chris Paul after doing all the damage for the Clippers?
Griffin has logged 41.2 minutes per game in this series which is the most in four playoffs appearances and which is six more than what he did during the regular season. Chris Paul is playing 39.7 minutes per game in this playoff series and while that may not be the most playoff minutes in his career ( he played more in New Orleans), this is the most his logged as a Clipper.Those 39.7 minutes are also around five more than his playing time during the regular season.
On the other hand, the Spurs have increased the minutes of Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs but even then, Leonard is just playing 36.2 and Duncan 35.5 per game. No other Spur has logged in 30 minutes per game with 10 players playing at least 10 minutes per game. Will fatigue be a factor? BG and CP3 are young and capable of playing the full route. But at some point in Game 7, Doc Rivers has got to find people to get off that bench and give them a break.
Remember that Jamal Crawford has averaged 14 points in the Clippers wins and only 8 during losses. So while they may not win the battle of the bench, getting significant contribution from their key reserves will give L.A. some advantage.
Since age is a factor for the Spurs, then slowing down the game should be their main objective especially since the Clippers are a +22 in the total fastbreak points of Games 1,4 and 6 which of course the Clippers won. That difference was most noticeable in Game 6 where the Clippers clipped the Spurs 18-2 in points in transition. So while the Clippers will want to push the tempo, the Spurs have to slow the game down and take it to their halfcourt set where their offense will flow.
According to Coach Pop, the reason why the Spurs rely on their bench is because they don't have the talents of a Griffin or Paul who could create plays for them. But if the Spurs can take the Clippers to their deliberate half court game, they can murder them with pin point passing and three point shooting.
Three point shooting has been key for the Spurs in this series because in the games they've won, they've shot 40.2% from three land. In losses, the Spurs only shot the three ball at a low 32.6%. With the exception of Game 6, the team which has shot better from three point distance has won the game in this series. This is where the Spurs have the advantage because the Clippers are just 5-32 from three point distance in their last two games. But that is also a two-way stat because if the Clippers have struggled for the past two games, they may be due for an explosion. That's what Pop should also be wary about.
We've almost done every stat we have to review but the bottomline in Game 7s really is who wants it more because while heart alone cannot win an NBA championship, it can move mountains in some big games (like a Game 7). Whether they like it or not, more pressure is on the Clippers to win because while the Spurs may be the defending champions, their legacy is secure in the history books. Los Angeles has yet to write its own and the pressure to win has never been higher with Doc Rivers' arrival last season and Steve Ballmer's purchase of the team.
We may see the proverbial changing of the guard tomorrow with a Clippers win, but make not mistake and never underestimate the heart of a champion as Rudy T. used to say:
The last 6th seed to win the NBA title by the way were Rudy's Houston Rockets during their back to back title years.
Before we go, here's one more piece of history worth noting:
The only time the Spurs won a Game 7 on the road, it was against Chris Paul (2008 conf. semis).— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 1, 2015
With that, we leave Game 7 to the gods. This one's tough to call so may the lines be with you on this game.
I love Pacquiao to death, but this basketball game should have the harder knockout punch.
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