Published on May 27, 2012
Paul was effectively shut down by the Spurs in the four-game sweep.
The motor that made the Clippers run during the regular season averaged 12.8 points per game on only 36.8 percent shooting from the floor—precipitous drop-offs from the 19.8 points on 47.8 percent shooting he produced during the regular season.
The Spurs frustrated Paul on offense and then hoped that would make him feel added pressure to create shots for his teammates, which in turn would lead to more turnovers.
The Spurs were right about that. Paul averaged only 2.1 turnovers per game this season, but against the Spurs in the second round, he averaged 4.5 per game.
That stymied the production of the Clippers backcourt—with one noted exception.
The only backcourt player who showed that he could maneuver through and around the Spurs' disciplined team defense was Eric Bledsoe.
That should be a concern for Gregg Popovich and his team as they prepare for the Thunder.
Bledsoe doesn't play for the Thunder, but Russell Westbrook sure does. If the speed and athleticism of Bledsoe was a problem for the Spurs, then Westbrook will present a major challenge.
It didn't work out that way during the regular season, but then again, this isn't the regular season. Both Oklahoma City and San Antonio are playing better basketball right now than they were during the regular season.
Both teams have really picked up their defensive intensity in the playoffs. Oklahoma City allowed 96.9 points per game on 42.7 percent shooting during the regular season. That's dropped off to the point where they now yield 91.9 points on 41.2 percent shooting per playoff game.
San Antonio has made even greater strides. The Spurs allowed 96.5 points per game on 45.2 percent shooting during the regular season. Popovich's crew is now allowing just 88.8 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting.
That drop-off makes the two games where Bledsoe was able to really score with frequency more of a concern for the Spurs.
Bledsoe averaged 20 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting against San Antonio in Games 1 and 4. His playing time has always been limited, so his window to enter the game and make enough of an impression to remain in the game is always short-lived.
When he was able to convince Vinny Del Negro to leave him in against the Spurs, Bledsoe produced very positive results.
Westbrook will have zero problems convincing Scotty Brooks to give him major minutes. He's one of the keys to the high-octane Oklahoma City offense.
That doesn't mean that the Spurs will lose the series, or even that Westbrook will run wild against them.
However, in a series in which individual matchups are likely to play a major role in determining the eventual outcome, the Westbrook-Parker showdown may be worth paying extra special attention to.
Parker and Westbrook have certainly matched up before and the results have been more positive for Parker than Westbrook. It's the postseason, though. Sometimes players are able to ratchet up their level of performance in the playoffs.
The Thunder have yet to make the NBA Finals, but this is the team's second consecutive trip to the Western Conference finals.
Westbrook is looking to take his game to another level. Whether or not Parker and Popovich can prevent him from doing that will go a long way toward determining if this younger Thunder team can upset the veteran Spurs.
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