The Los Angeles Clippers' time is now.
Their gutsy, ballsy, cold-blooded 102-96 Game 6 upset of the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio last night set up the biggest game in Clippers history: a winner-takes-all Game 7 on Saturday night at Staples Center.
Any L.A. sports fan not in Las Vegas for the Floyd Mayweather–Manny Pacquiao fight of the century will be watching this one on TV if he or she can’t afford the 10-times–face value tickets still available online.
Either way it's sure to be quite a show as the upstart Clippers look to dethrone the defending NBA champions. Here are five reasons the Clippers ought to win a down-to-the-wire nail-biter, quite possibly in overtime, and advance to play the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
1. None of the Spurs' slabs of beef can guard Blake Griffin consistently.
Griffin has been the best player for either team in the first six games. After registering 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and four blocks last night, that trend figures to continue in the biggest game of his five-year NBA career. Six-foot-11 center forward Tiago Splitter is too ground-bound, too slow and too mechanical in his movements to contend with Griffin. Six-foot-9 forward Boris Diaw is too small, too fat and too soft to handle Griffin’s agility, athleticism and ever-expanding skill set. Reserve forward center Aron Baynes, another 6-foot-11 slab of well-muscled beef like Splitter, got dunked on so many times by Griffin in the first couple of games that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has refused to put him back in, lest he be further embarrassed. Only the great Tim Duncan has been able to slow down Griffin at all, and unfortunately for the Spurs he has to spend most of his time battling DeAndre Jordan in the paint. That leaves exactly nobody who can guard Griffin on a consistent basis.
2. Little bulldog Chris Paul wants to smash his insecurity complex.
Like the Clippers, 29-year-old point guard Chris Paul is at a turning-point moment in his NBA career and more specifically in his four-year Clippers career. He has never been past the second round of the playoffs, and got there only twice with the Clippers. A proud little bulldog who is listed at 6 feet but is really only 5-foot-11 on a good day, Paul was awful in the first half last night, missing his first eight shots, scoring only four points and lacking his usual aggressiveness. But in the second half he piled up 15 points, had a game-high total of 15 assists and hit his patented 15-foot elbow jumper every time the Clippers absolutely had to have a bucket. Paul is very aware of the whispers that he is no longer the best point guard in the NBA — Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook would both be chosen before him in a shirts-versus-skins playground game — and he wants desperately to get back to that elite pinnacle he occupied last year. He will do whatever it takes to win Saturday night.
3. The Spurs invite ruin by their obsessive fouling of DeAndre Jordan.
DeAndre Jordan will hit enough of his foul shots to nullify the best tactic Spurs coach Popovich has had going for him: the hack-a-Jordan strategy that has effectively stopped the Clippers' free-flowing offense dead in its tracks and enabled the Spurs to get back in control of Games 2, 3 and 5. But Thursday night, when the Clips trailed by double digits in the second quarter, it had the opposite effect: it stalled the Spurs' free-flowing offense while Jordan was consistently making half his foul shots and L.A. roared back to take a lead. Up until now, the hack-a-Jordan strategy – intentionally fouling him in the expectation that he will miss most of his foul shots – has been the Spurs' ace in the hole, their only counter to those times when Griffin and Paul both are rolling at the same time. But Jordan proved last night he can man up at the foul line, and you can expect him to do it again Saturday night in the biggest game of his NBA career.
4. Steve Ballmer's got divine will.
Ballmer has 2 billion reasons he deserves a win in his first playoff series as the new Clippers owner. That Ballmer significantly overpaid for the Clippers was proven recently when the Atlanta Hawks were sold for approximately $730 million and the Milwaukee Bucks went for $550 million before that. Even factoring in all the advantages L.A. has over Atlanta and Milwaukee – do I really have to enumerate them? – Ballmer paid a ridiculous premium to rid L.A. of racist tightwad owner Donald Sterling and the Clippers curse that followed him around like a black cloud over the blue Pacific. Ballmer appeared to be in tears at the end of Thursday night’s game, but they were tears of joy. He should bring plenty of hankies to the game Saturday night as his return on investment pays off with the biggest win in Clippers history.
5. Karma, destiny and all New-Age powers slant to the Clippers
All that stuff dictates a Clippers victory Saturday night. This really is the start of a new era for the Clippers, as anyone who ever had to work for a bad boss will tell you. Donald Sterling was arguably the worst boss in sports history, and there’s no better way for the Clippers to prove they have shed the Clippers curse than to win this Game 7, advance to beat the Rockets in the Western Conference Semi-Finals and set up a rematch of their epic first-round series win over the Golden State Warriors last spring. The problem there is that the Warriors were easily the best team in the NBA from start to finish this year. But even if the Clippers lose to the Warriors, making it to the Western Finals will be considered a triumph for a franchise that has never made it that far in its 45-year history. More importantly, it will mark the kind of incremental advance that most NBA champions have to undergo before they finally win it all.