Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers showed the rest of the league their top gear Sunday in a 107-92 Game 1 beatdown of the San Antonio Spurs. The defending champions looked totally overwhelmed throughout the second half and now trail L.A. in the first-round series, 1-0.
Considered the best opening matchup of the playoffs this year, Game 1 between the Clippers and Spurs wasn't the close battle we expected. Both teams entered the game piping hot, but now San Antonio will go searching for some answers after getting dunked out of the building Sunday.
The Clippers' big man combination of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan was unstoppable. Griffin finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three steals, and got the crowd going several times with monster dunks. His slam on poor Aron Baynes was just vicious, and he followed that up minutes later with another one.
Jordan was also great for Los Angeles, anchoring the team on the defensive end and boards. He only finished with nine points on 2-of-5 shooting, but even the 14 rebounds and four blocked shots don't quite spell out how many times he impacted the game. Jordan was often a force:
And we haven't even gotten to Chris Paul, who put up 32 points, six rebounds and six assists in a classic performance. With the big men dominating in the paint, Paul and the shooters got countless open chances on the perimeter, and made the Spurs pay frequently.
The Clippers appear to have found the formula to beat the Spurs. Keeping up this kind of physicality and energy over a seven-game series will be tough, but if any frontcourt is capable, it's one with athletes like Griffin and Jordan.
The Spurs were considered a dangerous team entering the playoffs given the way they ended the season, but it shouldn't be ignored that the Clips similarly finished hot. Now they've carried that over through the first game of the playoffs, and the narrative of this series is changing. San Antonio will always have a chance to punch back on its home court, but the Clippers are not to be underestimated.
1. Nobody can stop Blake Griffin
The Spurs may have some advantages over the Clips, but they don't have Griffin. In Game 1, that seemed to be one of the big differences between the two teams. While things should get better for San Antonio as Tiago Splitter gets healthier and takes on more minutes, it's clear the Spurs were having trouble defending the Clippers' combination of Griffin and three-point shooting. Whether he was throwing down a ridiculous dunk or making a smart pass to set up a three-pointer, Griffin regularly made the right plays and showed how he can overwhelm a very talented opponent.
This is almost unfair:
2. Kawhi Leonard needs help
Tony Parker recently said that the Spurs are Leonard's team, and that was apparent Sunday as the 23-year-old tried to keep his team alive with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Leonard was the only San Antonio player to take more than seven shots and hit at least 50 percent of them, which is pretty much an impossible way to win for a balanced team like the Spurs. When Parker, Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw shoot a combined 15-of-54 from the field, it doesn't really matter how well Leonard plays. San Antonio always lives or dies as a team, even if Leonard is the new leader.
3. The Clippers have the giddiest owner
The best sports owners tend to be really passionate about their teams, and it's undeniable that applies to Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. Cameras caught Ballmer celebrating in the most joyous fashion possible after some big highlights during the game, and it's hard not dig an owner reacting like this to his team:
Ballmer spent $2 billion to buy the Clippers, and on Sunday night they were beating up the defending champs. That's a cause worthy of vigorous cheering.