How the Spurs Can Close Things Out Against the Clippers
Just because the Spurs are up 3-2 as they head to their home court doesn't mean their series against the Clippers is over. Each team has taken their turn winning, giving fans one of the best first-round matchups of the NBA Playoffs.
So what do the Spurs have to do to close out the series? While a Spurs' win could come many different ways, here are three areas that will be key for San Antonio.
After finishing fifth in the league from beyond the arc this regular season (36.7%), the Spurs have been uncharacteristically cold this series from downtown. Danny Green has struggled overall, shooting 7 for 23 through the first four games (and six of those came in Games 2 and 3), while Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli combined to go 8 for 26 in the first four games. Although Leonard and Patty Mills have kept the Spurs at a respectable 31.7% in three-pointers, that percentage is the third worst of all playoff teams for all games played through this past Monday.
In Game 5, though, the tides finally changed in favor of the Spurs -- Green is still trying to find his groove, but Ginobili was 2 for 4, Belinelli was 2 for 2 and Mills nailed all four of his attempts, contributing to the Spurs 47.8% rate from beyond the arc. Expecting the same results two games in a row (with only one day rest) could be foolish, but the Clippers haven't had an answer for Mills just yet.
If Green does slump yet again in Game 6, it will be back on Mills' shoulders to nail his three-point attempts yet again. He has made at least two attempts in every game, and he's hitting 59% of his shots from downtown. Regression is always in play with such a high percentage, so expect the Clippers to focus on him in Game 6. If he does go cold and Green still flounders, the Clippers may not have to be as reliant on one of their star players.
Blake Griffin's Play
If the Clippers find a way to scrape their way to the second round, Blake Griffin will be a big reason why. He made his presence known with a triple-double in Game 2, and has notched a double-double in every other game of the series. One big reason is his willingness to battle in the paint.
In Griffin's first three years of the playoffs, he averaged around seven rebounds a game -- this year that average has nearly doubled to 13.4 rebounds per game, accounting for 17.2% of the team's rebounds, second highest on the team. Griffin has never pulled in more than 13% in a given playoffs for the Clippers.
But it's not just Griffin's willingness to push around in the paint this year that's setting him apart, it's his willingness to look for the open teammate as well. Griffin has never averaged more than four assists per game during a regular season, but this year he dished out 5.3 assists per game. It's a similar story for his playoff numbers as well, as he never averaged more than 3.8 assists per game in previous playoffs, but he's up 7.2 assists per game in this series.
This extra attention to other aspects of his game isn't taking away from his ability to score points either -- his 23.8 points per game is a career playoff high despite coming off just the third highest scoring average of his career (21.9) in the regular season. However, the Spurs may be content with the ball in his hands if it allows their defense to focus on Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick. Let's even go a step further and say that the Spurs giving him room to take his shots are more beneficial for the Spurs as well.
Yes, giving Griffin room to operate doesn't seem intuitive, but if the Spurs fall back into a zone defense like they did in the first half of Game 5 (which contributed to a 15-0 run for them), they could defend Griffin a little more loosely. And some stats back this idea up -- when Griffin's defender is within zero to four feet of him, he's shooting 51.6% from the field. When the defender drops to four or more feet away, Griffin's shooting drops to 35%.
Laying off of Griffin could prove to be useful or it could backfire for the Spurs, but letting one man score 40 points instead of three or four scoring 20-plus points each in a game could prove to be the difference in Game 6.
There's No Place Like Home
While both teams split the home and road games in the first four games, the Spurs still have a sizable advantage playing at home in Game 6. They had the third best home record in the league during the regular season and are much better overall when at home and on the road. And it's more than just their Offensive and Defensive Ratings that are different.
The first statistic that stands out is San Antonio's shooting percentages. They saw a 5.3% increase in Effective Field Goal percentage between their home and away games during the regular season and a 5.1% increase in just their three-point shooting. With those increases, it's not a surprise we see an eight-point swing in points scored between their home and away games.
The Spurs are also a slightly better rebounding team when at home and see an increase in assists as well. An increase in turnovers is one category that an increase is bad. This has plagued the Spurs in this series too, as they've had 13 or more turnovers in three of their games, including 16 in their Game 5 victory. Protecting the ball will be vital in Game 6 for both teams.
But with the Spurs up 3-2, notching two wins at the Staple Center already, coming home for Game 6 and noting their better performances when at their friendly confines, it's not surprising they are hugely favored to win the series at over 70% per our numbers. However, with the back-and-forth nature of this series, it's still a near toss up for the Spurs to close it out in Game 6. If this series has taught us anything, its that anything can -- and probably will -- happen.