The Clippers and forward Blake Griffin made great strides this year, but in the end it was not enough. Photo by Jae C. Hong (AP)
But the Spurs sent them one step backBy Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Clippers glass looks half full. But after being swept out of the playoffs in the second round against the top seeded San Antonio Spurs, that glass looks half empty. But at least for once there is something in that glass, because it is usually bone dry. The Clippers have a super star player in point guard Chris Paul and a soon to be super star in Blake Griffin, but for this year it was not going to be enough, as their playoff fate was pretty much sealed when they won Game 7 in the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies. It was a foregone conclusion that the San Antonio Spurs would have their way with the Clippers. It did not help that both Paul and Griffin where playing with injuries, but even healthy, the Clippers would not have been much competition for the machine that the Spurs have become. And the Clippers flaws certainly were exposed in the series that only lasted four games. The Clippers had an exciting offense this season, but their low post defense and rebounding were major issues, and that falls on Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan. Griffin’s desire to play hard on the defensive end of the court and his efforts to become a good rebounder have come into question. In three out of the four games against the Spurs he failed to grab 10 rebounds, and in Game 2 he only grabbed one rebound in 37 minutes of play. He relies on his great athletic abilities, but he does not position himself correctly or box out as often as he should. Offensive numbers can fluctuate, but defense and rebounding are about effort, and those numbers should be consistent. Players who want to be good in those two categories usually will, but it does not appear that Griffin has put enough attention in those areas. Jordan is not there for his offensive presence, so he needs to improve on his rebounding and overall low post play. All those lobs that he throws down are exciting, but that is not what the Clippers need out of him. Grabbing 8.3 rebounds per game during the regular season was not enough, and his rebounding dipped to 5.3 per game in the postseason. Also down from the regular season were his minutes per game. He averaged 27.2 minutes in the regular season, but only 22.6 during the post season. Jordan lost those minutes to his back up Reggie Evans, who had more of a positive effect on the game because he played his main role, which was to play defense and rebound. His minutes were up in the postseason from 13.8 per game in the regular season to 18, and his rebounds were up from 4.8 to 7.3 per game. Evans was so effective that the Spurs felt the need to game plan him out of the game by fouling him often because his free throw shooting was so poor. Even with the front court issues, the Clippers did play hard for the entire series against the Spurs, but the lack of experience against a franchise that has won four NBA championships over the last 13 years was too much to over come. At this point the Clippers are a team that relies mostly on great athletic abilities, but outside of Paul and an injured Chauncey Billups, this team lacked the mental capacities to compete with a veteran team. Did the Clippers exceed or fall short of expectations? The answer is neither. They fell right where they should have. They are still a relatively young team that has only played together for one season, unlike the Oklahoma City Thunder, where their star players have grown up together in their NBA careers. Their roster will most likely see some adjustments. If Jordan does not improve, they will need another big man who can score, and they may not be able to count on an aging Billups to return at full strength. It was a fun ride for the Clippers as they took a major step forward in terms of competing in this league, and this season could be the building blocks for something special down the road. Paul and Griffin will be along for the ride, and possibly for a long time. The rest of the roster is questionable, and so is their head coaching position, where Vinny Del Negro is on the hot seat. He may get one more opportunity to coach this team, but the Clippers could make a decision on him sooner than later, and that decision may be based on whether or not Paul and Griffin want him to stay on board. The Clippers should be better next year based on Griffin continuing to develop into a super star player. The expectations are not for a championship yet, but they are at least finally in the ballpark.
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