Bernucca: Are red-hot Clippers too flawed for NBA Finals?

After the Los Angeles Clippers demolished the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night for their franchise-record 13th straight win, there were two telling quotes coming out of the losing locker room.

The first came from Suns coach Alvin Gentry, who was very impressed.

“That is the best team we’ve played,” said Gentry, whose club has faced Miami, Memphis, New York and Golden State but has yet to play Oklahoma City or San Antonio.

“They’re deep, they’ve got all the ingredients to be a championship team,” he added. “They’ve got a great leader in Chris Paul, a tremendous player in Blake Griffin, they’re deep off the bench, they’re very good defensively, they’re very athletic. Don’t know a weakness that they have, really.”

The second came from Suns center Marcin Gortat, who may have picked up on something that his coach overlooked.

“They’re playing show basketball with the alley-oops and the fancy passes,” Gortat said. “They can afford to turn the ball over a few times.”

In December? Sure.

But not in May and June, when the season really begins for elite teams like the Clippers.

Yes, elite.

Right now, no one is playing better than the Clippers. While detractors point to the fact that they have played teams with a combined winning percentage of .402 (127-189) during their streak, it should be noted that they have won those games by an average of 15.7 points.

The Clippers are clobbering opponents, and they are doing it on both ends. During the streak, they have scored more than 110 points four times and have held foes to 85 points or less seven times, including their last five.

Overall, the Clippers are plus-6 on the road win-home loss ledger, one of colleague Mark Heisler’s favorite metrics. On offense, they lead the league in scoring margin at 9.6 points, rank second in assists at 23.3, second in fast-break points with 17.8 and fourth in points per shot at 1.26.

On defense, they are second in opponents’ field goal percentage at .424, first in turnovers forced at 17.4, first in steals at 10.7 and seventh in blocks in 6.5. They are one of just six teams whose steals and blocks outnumber their turnovers, and their margin of 2.6 is by far the biggest of any team.

So Gentry’s words have considerable merit. But so do Gortat’s.

With all of their talent and athleticism, the Clippers get careless, even sloppy at times. They solo too much, often settle for jump shots and throw way too many lobs, giving away possessions. They shoot free throws poorly and lead the NBA with 38 technical fouls, giving away points.

And in May and June, you cannot do that and expect to advance. There were 84 games in the 2012 postseason, and a staggering 35 of them were decided by six points or less, or two possessions. Twenty of those 35 were decided by three points or less, or one possession. And of those 20, seven were decided by a single point.

DeAndre Jordan is among the game’s most impactful defenders. Can he improve his shaky free-throw shooting enough to stay on the floor?

Blake Griffin is an unstoppable physical force. Can he resist the temptation to fire 20-foot jumpers?

Chris Paul has the best combination of skill and competitive fire of anyone not named Kobe Bryant. Can he show the patience to not try to do it all by himself?

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  1. Metalo says

    It’s always sad to see the name of a Laker, forced into the body of a “Clippers” article. In this case, incorrectly, as Paul is far more competitive than Kobe. Willing to do ANYTHING, including sacrifice. Something Mamba will do as well, but very inconsistantly. Paul is ten times the leader Kobe will ever be. Kobe just has more size and physial talent. He’ll grind off and on. Paul will always grind.

  2. Larry Fleisher says

    I actually caught most of that Bobcats-Hornets game for work related purposes and this was 24 hours after covering the Bobcats-Nets game in person. Let’s just say, I needed a major bad basketball detox, though Eric Gordon’s season debut was at least entertaining.

  3. Gershom says

    No they do not have to get every single possession like the spurs do. Thats why we lead league in creating turnovers. I dont understand medias man crush on spurs & popovich…or urs.

    And u said it urself…clips lead league in turnover differential. And using gortats opinion as if it matters…he doesnt like lobs because he was the victim of the lobs. I dont understand logic of this article. I do think we wont see how good clips r in playoif UNTIL they play in playoffs…

  4. Alan says

    some pretty silly thoughts in this article. your fears of what might happen won’t happen – likely other things, if any.

  5. Anthony says

    It’s funny how it seems you criticize CP3 for supposedly not having patience and trying to when the game for his team, but yet Kobe has been heralded for years for always forcing the issue…

  6. Cris says

    Some great points, but in close games this season and against the elite teams (Memphis, San Antonio, Miami) the Clippers have executed extremely well in the half court.

    A lot of the flashy play has come as a result of being up 10, sometimes 20 points and putting on a show for fans both home and away.

    Blake Griffin’s shot from 16-23 feet I believe is up over or near .450 for the season and Odom has been Griffin’s front court companion late in games — not Jordan.

    • says

      Don’t understand why you think this is biased. Clips are good – real good – but I believe for them to be serious about winning it all, in the postseason they have to get serious about every possession the way the Spurs do. Thanks for reading and happy holidays. CB

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