Though the Los Angeles Clippers comfortably beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of their first round series, the game also highlighted the Clippers’ biggest problem going into the playoffs.
The Clippers have one of the weakest benches in the NBA. Excluding Jamal Crawford, the reigning sixth man of the year, the Clippers were typically outscored when their bench was on the floor this season.
According to NBA.com/Stats, four out of the five Clippers bench players had negative net ratings this year (mean the Clips allow more points per 100 possessions than they score when they’re on the court):
This was also the case Sunday night against the Spurs. While the Clippers starters built a comfortable lead over the Spurs, when the bench came in, that lead evaporated:
Outside of Crawford, Clippers coach Doc Rivers couldn’t play anyone off the bench for more than 13 minutes because they were letting the Spurs back in the game.
Rivers only has himself to blame, though. In his capacity of general manager of the Clippers, Rivers has done a poor job filling out the team’s roster. The Chris Paul-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan triumvirate was already in place when Rivers became coach. J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and Jamal Crawford — also all in place when Rivers became GM — are useful role players that give the Clippers a top-six that’s as good as any team in the NBA.
More baffling have been the signings that have happened under Rivers The GM. In the summer of 2014, shortly after Rivers was promoted to GM, the Clippers re-signed both Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu, players past their primes that were midseason signings in 2013.
In the middle of the 2014-15 season, the Clippers completed a trade for Doc’s son, Austin Rivers, who has underperformed expectations since getting taken with the No. 10 pick in the 2012 draft.
Spencer Hawes, also a free agent signing in 2014, was a good move on paper, but just hasn’t been productive with the Clippers.
With such a weak bench, there is tremendous pressure on the Clippers’ starters to keep the team afloat. In Game 1, Paul, Griffin, and Jordan all played over 37 minutes (with Griffin playing 42). After the long haul of the regular season, demanding those kinds of minutes from your stars can become taxing, especially when playing a deep team like the Spurs.
In Game 1, the Clippers’ top six was able to beat San Antonio, so there is no need for an immediate freakout, but it will be interesting to monitor going forward.
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