Clippers start playoffs in style

Listen to this article

With the news that the Clippers are looking to re-brand the team this off-season, with new colors and uniforms, people could find things a bit distracting here at Staples Center in Los Angeles. But the players in L.A. were focused on one thing: winning their first game of the 2015 NBA Playoffs.

Clippers-1Their opponents are the San Antonio Spurs, a team that has a much longer record of playoff success than L.A. — they are the reigning NBA champions — and even though the Clippers are the number 3 seed in the playoff bracket and the Spurs are Number 6, everyone considers L.A. to be the underdog team. And the Clippers have embraced that role.

If you look at the four games these two teams played against each other, it’s easy to see they are evenly matched. If you look at the first game in which they faced each other, here at Staples in November, the Spurs won, but only by four points. The difference in that game was offensive rebounding. Both DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have stepped up their rebounding since then. In the last game these teams played each other, in San Antonio, the Clippers won, beating the Spurs by 20 points. Blake Griffin led L.A. with 31 points and 13 rebounds and DeAndre Jordan had 19 rebounds and eight points. Seven of those rebounds coming off the offensive glass.

Clippers Spirit
Clippers Spirit

But the Spurs are the NBA champs at the moment for good reason so they will be hard to beat in a seven game series — for any team.

If the Clippers were out to make a statement Sunday Night, it was that the current NBA champions would not intimidate them. In all honesty, the San Antonio Spurs weren’t playing their best game tonight, but a good portion of that was due to the great defensive effort from L.A. They got stops on San Antonio when they needed them, with great moments like the monster dunk over Spurs center Aron Baynes by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s powerful block on Manu Ginobli.

Although San Antonio outscored L.A. in the second quarter, it never felt like the Spurs were turning a corner in this game. It was all Clippers. Chris Paul outplayed Tony Parker all night, partly because Parker turned his ankle in the first quarter, which really slowed him down. But, Paul was especially good Sunday, playing one of his best games ever. The headlines in other news organizations said Chris Paul stepped up Sunday, but if you’ve been watching the Clippers all season, you know he steps up almost every night. Sunday his step up was just a little bigger.

Shooting guard Jamal Crawford and his son J.J.
Shooting guard Jamal Crawford and his son J.J.

It was a great way for the Clippers to start their series with the Spurs — they had never won the first game against San Antonio in the playoffs. And they did it with such dominating style, it was more than the Spurs having bad night.

Maybe the opening fanfare had something to do with it. The sold out crowd was on its feet for the introductions, while they batted around lighted beach balls in the darkened arenas. It was one of the most spectacular game openers I have witnessed in any game of any sport.

Chris Paul led all scoring with 32 points, and Blake Griffin delivered 26 points and 12 rebounds. Jamal Crawford finally shook off the rust, going 7 for 10 and giving L.A. 17 points. Austin Rivers got his first taste of the playoffs, scoring two points in 13 minutes of play. Glenn “Big Baby” Davis got the crowd on its feet early in the game when he subbed in for DeAndre Jordan after DJ got into foul trouble. Davis played 12 minutes, getting three points and four defensive rebounds.

Spurs center Tiago Splitter
Spurs center Tiago Splitter

Kawhi Leonard led the San Antonio scoring with 18 points, while Tim Duncan and Marco Bellinelli had 11 points each. Duncan also had 11 boards. He only played 30 minutes, but this season he averaged 18 points against the Clippers. After the game Duncan gave credit to the Clippers defense for the L.A. win. Brazilian center Tiago Splitter returned after a long absence due to a calf injury. He played 10 minutes and got four points and three rebounds.

Game two will be here at Staples Center Wednesday night. More than likely a better San Antonio team will take the court so the Clippers will need to rise above the best the Spurs bring to the game if they wish to have an advantage when the series moves to San Antonio.

The final score Sunday Night was 107-92.

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Power forward Blake Griffin
Power forward Blake Griffin

In other NBA playoff news: LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 13-point win over the Boston Celtics. James had 20 points, but Kyrie Irving finished with 30 and Kevin Love had a big game with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The team with the second best season record, the Atlanta Hawks, held off a late Brooklyn Nets surge to win 98-92, in Atlanta. Shooting guard Kyle Korver led all scoring with 21 points for the Hawks.

It was a big night for Beno Udrih of the Memphis Grizzlies who came in the game off the bench to score 20 points, allowing starting point guard Mike Conley to sit and rest through the fourth quarter. Memphis dominated the Portland Trailblazers the entire game, never giving up the lead.

(All photos by Claudia Gestro)