I see the Clippers a lot like I saw the Oklahoma City Thunder a couple years ago — very talented, a world of potential, dangerous, but still learning how to win the way they need to win to start talking titles.
Those Thunder lost in the first round to the Lakers (the next year they were in the conference finals). These Clippers maybe can get past the Grizzlies and out of the first round — although that will be far from easy — but beyond that it may be too much. Right now.
For the Clippers, these playoffs will be a learning experience. Learning how to defend at this level — as they have done the last month of the season. Learning how to trust their counters in the offense. Learning how to adjust. It’s about gaining experience because while Chris Paul has made it to the second round of the playoffs before, nobody else on this team — including coach Vinny Del Negro — has.
Now it will be a different game for the Clippers. During the regular season, the Clippers raw physical gifts could overwhelm teams — Blake Griffin can overpower defenders in the post, the raw athleticism of DeAndre Jordan leads to highlight packages. The Clippers got out and ran and put on a show.
But that’s not how games are won in the playoffs. These are good teams who have the ability to take away the easy buckets, they do not get overwhelmed with your big dunks.
Playoff wins come with controlled execution on both ends. They come with smart adjustments and execution. Can Vinny Del Negro make those adjustments? Can the Clippers consistently execute them?
The defensive end is the real key for the Clippers — they have been inconsistent there this season. The last month they have been better but it will be their ability to defend, rotate and adjust that will determine if they can get out of the first round against Memphis.
Let’s not think about what the Spurs offensive execution would do to the Clippers defense. Not yet. Let the team cross that bridge when they come to it.
The Clippers have talent. Raw talent. But not experience, from individual players or as a team.
The Clippers against the Grizzlies will be the best first round series in either conference. It will be physical, intense and filled with athletes. I suspect the Clippers will not get past it, but if they do the execution of the Spurs will make them pay in the second round.
Which is another learning experience. If you’re going to learn control and execution under pressure, San Antonio is the team to watch.
The Clippers are still learning. The exams are about to get a lot tougher. But like the Thunder a couple years ago, the path to title contender seems to be there.