No. 1: They're battle-tested.
Fittingly, coach Doc Rivers compared the Clippers vs. Spurs series to a blow-for-blow boxing match. This series not only provided Los Angeles with crucial experience against the defending champions but also gives them the confidence to take down other contenders in the Western Conference. They won't be well rested, but they're playing at a championship-caliber level. And they'll be fully equipped in close-game situations.
"When you play the defending champions in the first round and you win, it gives you good belief," Rivers said. "This series had no momentum."
No. 2: They've grown up.
Aside from one blowout in Game 3, the Clippers were competitive in every game — narrowly falling in Games 2 and 5. Through it all, they showed great resolve and maturity. And much as the Detroit Pistons stood in front of the Chicago Bulls in the late 1980s, the veteran-laden Spurs were the necessary wall that this Clippers team needed to scale before coming into championship form. It'd be easy to suggest the Spurs were aging and a first-round dismissal was inevitable, but that was far from the case. Tim Duncan, at 39, was playing like he was 29.
"If you wrote a script for a movie I think that's how the ending would be," L.A.'s Jamal Crawford said. "To have 31 lead changes, this series is going to pay dividends because San Antonio is the blueprint. I think this is the most growth we've showed in franchise history."
No. 3: Chris Paul is playing incredibly.
The "MVP" chants for Paul at Staples Center are fitting. Minus a Game 3 blunder (seven points), Paul was absolutely magnificent, particularly in Games 1 and 4 when he scored more than 30 points. And Saturday's Game 7 showing, in which he suffered a first-half hamstring injury and played through pain to finish with 27 points and six assists, was the perfect example of his tenacity that energizes this team. "He's a street fighter," Rivers said. "I love him to death because of his will.
"All four of the Clippers' victories in the series were undoubtedly orchestrated by strong performances from the Los Angeles point guard."Just an amazing competitor," Duncan said. "I know he was playing a little hurt, and he played through all that, found ways to get it done. I mean, just an unbelievable last shot over two of us. He's just a great leader. I wish I wasn't on the other end."
No. 4: Blake Griffin's aggressiveness, passing ability.
Griffin had a double-double in every game. Yet the most interesting part of his stat line has been his passing. He averaged 5.3 assists a game this season and 7.4 in the playoffs. The All-Star forward has upped the ante on his aggressiveness — mainly shown in a Game 1 dunk-a-thon, a Game 2 triple-double and a Game 4 performance that featured 19 rebounds. But it's Griffin's passing and ability to create for his teammates that was the difference in this series and could be a serious weapon going forward. Whether it's in a pick-and-roll set with sharpshooter J.J. Redick (who shoots better than 50% from the field) or on a high-low alley-oop to DeAndre Jordan, Griffin is patient and smart with his reads. His dunks make the highlight reels, but his passing could spell a championship run.
No. 5: Role players.
Every championship team has role players. The Clippers are no different. Whether it's Redick drilling three-pointers, Matt Barnes making hustle plays or Glen "Big Baby" Davis providing energy off the bench, a different role player gave Los Angeles the lift it needed. On Saturday, it was Redick (14 points and two big three pointers late) and Barnes (17 points). Jamal Crawford missed significant time in the regular season with a calf injury but his re-emergence in the playoffs was huge. Whenever the Clippers needed a big shot, if it were not Paul, it was Crawford. He had 17 points in Game 1, 15 in Game 4 and 16 in Game 7. The Clippers' biggest weakness has undoubtedly been their bench. But if Crawford can remain a consistent force and Austin Rivers can play more as he did in Games 3 and 4 (when he reached double-figures), the bench looks far less like Kryptonite.
"I feel like we're the best team in the playoffs," Clippers forward Matt Barnes said after the win on Saturday.
No. 6: The core.
Rivers said the team's nucleus — namely Griffin, Paul and Jordan — is the reason for great chemistry. "The more you try to keep a core group together, the more they learn from each other; they know each other, and they can trust each other, and they tend to have more confidence together." It's part of why Los Angeles had the league's best offense this season (rating 109.8 points per 100 possessions). On paper, it's easy to point out how great the Clippers Big Three have been in the playoffs. But their togetherness is a product of continuity.
"They're obviously going in the right direction," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the Clippers. "Both teams competed their butts off."
No. 7: Home-court advantage.
Rivers called the Clippers' Game 1 support one of the best he has seen since coming to town. Game 7 might have been better but Games 2 and 5 were just as boisterous, despite close losses. Make no mistake, this is a basketball town. But the scene has been largely dominated by the team that has banners hanging atop the rafters. The Lakers being out of the playoffs hasn't hurt in paving the way for an amplified following and that's a small-but-mighty boost to help this team gain momentum in pivotal stretches.
via USA Today