As I've previously stated, I do think these Clippers pose some problems for the Spurs. And I do think the Spurs are ripe for a letdown. However, looking closer at the Clippers, I've come to the conclusion that the way they beat the Grizzlies is simply not sustainable against the Spurs.
Casually watching the Clippers in the first round, one would probably think L.A. was playing stout defense. But that really wasn't the case. It was a mirage created a slow pace and the Grizzlies inability to make three-pointers.
The Clippers allowed the Grizzlies to score just 91.4 points per game, however the pace of that series was exceptionally low: 87.7 possessions per game. So while the Clippers D looked improved on first glance, there was definitely more to the story.
In the regular season, the Clippers were 18th in the league defensively, allowing 105.7 points per 100 possessions. Against the Grizzlies, the Clippers allowed 102.9 points per 100 possessions, which was still just ninth out of the 16 playoff teams in the first round. On a per-possession basis, Los Angeles didn't do anything drastically better defensively. Instead, the improvement can be directly linked to the Grizzlies shooting 24-for-83 (28.9%) from three-point range. Perimeter shooting was Memphis' main weakness heading into the postseason and it cost them dearly in the first round.
The Clippers weren't good at defending the three-point line in the regular season so it's unlikely they played much of a role in the Grizzlies ineptness. If you adjust the Clippers opponent three-point percentage in the first round to something more sustainable like 35%, their defensive efficiency would rise to 104.9 -- or right around the mark they posted in the regular season.
As we all know, the Spurs are a great three-point shooting team. The Clippers simply can't rely on the Spurs going cold from deep as the backbone of their defensive philosophy. San Antonio is more than capable of punishing teams who don't defend the three-point line. Memphis wasn't.
The other main reason why the Clippers advanced is they took advantage of the Grizzlies second glaring weakness: a lack of a bench. Memphis had only one decent bench option (O.J. Mayo) to go along with a group of subpar players. The Grizzlies bench was particularly horrible on the defensive end. The Clippers, on the other hand, have a fine bench unit.
When the two teams clashed, bench play ended up being a huge factor. The Grizzlies starters actually all posted positive plus/minus numbers for the series (ranging from Tony Allen's +34 to Mike Conley's +16). But those numbers were more than negated by the Clippers bench unit. Nick Young, Eric Bledsoe and Reggie Evans had the three highest plus/minus totals of the series at +49, +42 and +35, respectively.
Against the Spurs, there's no way the Clippers bench is going to have that type of success. The Spurs are at the very least equally as deep and are certainly much deeper than the Grizzlies.
The Clippers bench also hid the fact that Chris Paul didn't direct a very efficient offensive attack. In fact, when Paul was in the game against the Grizzlies, L.A. only scored 100.2 points per 100 possessions.
Add it up and the Clippers defense was aided by the Grizzlies not having three-point range and the Clippers offense relied on their bench to destroy the Grizzlies putrid bench. I just don't see a way that the Clippers can sustain any of that against the Spurs.
Factor in the very real possibility that a number of the Clippers will be slowed by injury (oh, and the fact that the Spurs ain't half bad themselves) and I'm tempted to predict another sweep. But I'm not going to quite go that far.
In a couple games, I think Paul is going to successfully slow the pace to a snail's crawl. In a walk-it-up affair, the Clippers have the pieces to hand the Spurs a loss. They can grab offensive rebounds in bunches, get hot from the outside and execute down the stretch while disrupting the Spurs pick-and-roll offense by switching on the screen and forcing San Antonio to shoot contested jumpers. I think it will all come together for the Clippers in one game and they'll snap the Spurs winning streak.
But that's as far as I'm going. The Spurs will defeat the Clippers in five games and advance to the 2012 Western Conference Finals. I can't put my finger on which game the Spurs will drop but I'm confident, as long as San Antonio stays healthy, it won't be more than one game.
In a couple of the contests, I think the Spurs will be able to blow the Clippers out of the water. When the Spurs are able to push the pace, the Clippers simply won't be able to hang.
You had your fun, Clipshow. Props on escaping the first round.
Now be prepared to be steamrolled.
tl;dr: clippers were fortunate, spurs are really good, spurs will win