The Parker-Paul matchup that isn’t


Chris Paul and Tony Parker finished third and fifth in MVP voting. They share a position. One could make an argument that they were the league’s best two point guards this season.

Coming into this series, it will be fun to speculate whether Parker or Paul will win “the matchup”.  “The winner of that matchup….so go the series…,” some will say. The problem, of course, is that matchup doesn’t exist—at least not in the hero ball sense.  Paul vs. Parker is not a Hollywood boxing bout.  It isn’t even a true blue Castillo-Corrales slug fest. It’s a paper tiger.

Within their program, the Spurs prefer to feature wings who can defend multiple positions. Bruce Bowen is the historic standard,  but the Spurs regularly use Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green,  Manu Ginobili, and Stephen Jackson to defend multiple positions. Ginobili might be deployed against 1s, 2s, and 3s; Jackson against 2s, 3s, and 4s. And so on. This doesn’t make the Spurs entirely unique, but it does point to one of the more intriguing matchups of the series: Danny Green vs. Chris Paul.

Chris Paul is unquestionably the most important player for either team in this series. Paul is better than any guard in the league and setting up his teammates and commanding the tempo. It’s not a stretch to say that to the extent the Spurs are able to frustrate Paul, they will frustrate the Clippers’ offense.

Danny Green’s length and, frankly, sheer willingness to stick his nose in the fray will make him Gregg Popovich’s likely choice to defend Paul.  No one expects Green to bottle Paul, but, like Bowen before him, if Green can cut into Paul’s assist and FG% averages, the Spurs should win this series in a rout. If the Spurs are unsuccessful on that front, San Antonio is in for a fight against a Clippers team that has shown more postseason grit than any of us expected.

The supposed Parker-Paul matchup does come into play in relation to tempo. The Spurs like to push the ball up court and take advantage of early opportunities. If those opportunities don’t exist, the Spurs space the floor, work the ball side-to-side, and run through endless iterations of the high pick and roll. The reason this season was Tony Parker’s best-ever is that he effortlessly got the Spurs into their sets, and he is just as effective finding second, third, and fourth options as he is with the early opportunities.

Tony Parker is still, occasionally, a one man fastbreak. But this season he has found more running partners in players like Green and Leonard. One of the reasons the Spurs get into their sets so quickly is that players like Green and Leonard either leak out on the break or push the ball off their own rebounds. When this doesn’t happen, Parker masterfully shoulders the responsibility. The Spurs will push the ball all series, looking to get into the halfcourt as quickly as possible.

Chris Paul, conversely, will attempt to slow the game down, and thereby rob the Spurs of their rhythm. In a reversal of roles, the Spurs are the finesse team and the Clippers are eager for a slow, grinding series.

So don’t look too hard for a lot of Tony Parker vs. Chris Paul, man-up. You’ll be disappointed in the lack of fireworks. But do pay attention to the Spurs’ use of their wings on Paul, and, if you must evaluate this series in terms of a point guard showdown, pay close attention to the pace. The team whose point guard dictates the pace will win the series.



  • Tyler

    I’d go a little further and say there is no such thing as a “Parker/Paul”, “Green/Paul”, “Duncan/Griffin”, etc. matchup. There won’t be an individual matchup that decides this series. As it always does, it will come down to team defense, not individual, one on one defense.

    Both teams run an absurd amount of PnR sets (many of which aren’t “sets” or called plays; many of the Spurs PnR’s occur on the secondary break) with the two best PnR guards in the game. To have a chance at combating these sets, it’s going to take all 5 defenders working as a unit. With even one defender out of place, either PG will exploit mistakes. All have to know scouting reports, player tendencies, rotations, etc.

    This is one area I think the Spurs have a decided advantage. I don’t have very much confidence that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have the BBIQ/awareness/know how/experience/whateveryouwanttocallit to make that extra rotation; to be at the right spot when they need to be. As we all know, the Spurs gave the Jazz a lesson in how to share and move the ball. It was extra pass after extra pass. In those circumstance, every player is going to be asked to get out on shooters, front the post, slide to the baseline on penetration, trap a PnR, etc. From what I’ve seen of the Clips, as athletic and physically imposing as Griffin and Jordan are, they tend to be a step slow on rotations, leading to open shots and fouls.

    I think the Clips inability to get stops will be the difference in this series. Spurs in 5.

  • Bob

    This will be an interesting matchup. Chris Paul is arguably the master at controlling tempo like Steve Nash. Parker has gotten much better at that this year. The Spurs need to pay at a faster pace.

  • JJ

    Tyler makes some solid points in his post. Despite the unquestionable gap in athleticism between our big men and theirs, I think there is just as big a gap between the BBIQ of our big men and theirs. I agree with Tyler in that I think Jordan and Griffin will be very hard pressed to combat the pick and roll and the interior passing of the Spurs big men. I am almost more interested in seeing what our second team does against the likes of Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin. I am interested to see if Pop puts Bonner out there and forces Evans to try and guard him or if he puts Blair in to combat Evans on the glass a bit. In the end, like most Spurs fans, I think if we get what we want offensively and we can knock down shots then it is almost immaterial what the Clippers do on offense. It’ll be a really intriguing battle of tempos and I am looking forward to watching the Spurs impose their will.

  • John M. Perkins

    OTOH, Jack’s interview today implied that Parker was going to be the main guy on CP3, with a lot of help defense.
    CIA Pop?

    I don’t see gimpy Paul covering Parker.

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  • Titletown99030507d

    They need to come out of the gate really fast run, run, run, and tire the hell out of them. Our 2nd unit should wear them out. I don’t think Griffin and Paul in their condition and having played a 7 game series can withstand a rested fast moving 1st and 2nd unit. Bang, bang, bang the boards as well. Maybe Blair should start?

  • John

    I am in Paris for the next two weeks and am trying to find a place to watch this series – does anyone have any information on a good place (or any place at all) to do this in Paris? Game one is starting at 3:30am here… please help me get my fix!!!

  • Stijl

    Several saying the same thing. Start, play throughout, and finish at a face pace. I agree. Take it to them. Attempt to confuse. Throw everything AND the kitchen sink in an uptempo onslaught of both experience and youth.

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