I just watched the Clippers vs Warriors slugfest, as any good NBA fan would. It's easily the best rivalry in the NBA at this time and didn't fail to live up to the reputation it has built up for itself ever since the 2012-13 season. It was a mental and physical arm-wrestle for the entire 48 minutes. It never died down and neither team looked out of it, even when the Clippers were down by more than 15 points.
This game showed me something. Despite the Clippers losing, the resolve and fight Doc Rivers' men showed was sensational and in my opinion they are fully deserving of being NBA title contenders. Here's why:
Let's start with CP3.
It has been known for some time now that none of Chris Paul's teams, of which there have been 10 thus far, have never made the conference finals. Just about every person who follows the NBA mentions that as soon as the subject of the Clippers have been brought up. That conversation usually goes something like this:
"Man, the Clippers played really well tonight! What do you think about them as a title contender?"
"The Clippers? That's Chris Paul's team right?"
"Yeah, he's in dominant form right now."
"But he's never been out of the second round, so why are they title contenders?"
Yep, that's a casual NBA fan in a nutshell right there. Always doubting Chris Paul and his abilities. The truth is, CP3 is one of the all-time greatest point guards that this league has ever seen. He is as good as any other NBA player on the pick and roll, as tough as nails, defends his position as well as any other point guard and his pull-up mid-range jumper is deadly. He is way too intelligent for any NBA defense, a vocal leader (some would say too vocal) and and can thread passes that only Rajon Rondo can match. He is a superhuman superstar that is focused on one task for the rest of his career: getting his hands on the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Surrounding Paul is the most talent on a single roster that he has had in his entire career. With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, he has the other two thirds of LA's big three. Griffin has developed into one of the best offensive players in the league. He can score it for everywhere, create shots for others and of course, is amazing as a pick and roll partner for CP3.
Jordan has become arguably the best defensive player in the league. He swats shots, can switch on to guards (on certain occasions) and is an imposing presence around the basket. Like Griffin, Jordan is adapt at being the roll man for Paul and endless lobs will be headed his way this season.
Add those three to their abundance of role players. JJ Redick might be the most underrated player in the league. Last season he averaged 16.4 points on 47.7% shooting, including 44% from behind the arc. Redick is also underrated defensively. Unlike other shooters in the association, Redick tries his absolute hardest on defense and busts his ass getting back in position and making sure that he is doing all he can to stop his matchup from scoring. Redick is the perfect example of someone that isn't talented or athletic, but with his determination, is able to be an effective NBA defender.
Jamal Crawford is their shot creator extraordinaire off the bench and has been the Clippers' crunch-time 3rd option for quite some time now. He has more competition this year however, with a lot more talent coming to the Staples Center. Austin Rivers played crunch-time against the Warriors and played outstanding defense, he is explosive offensively and can make an impact on that side of the ball.
New additions, Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and Wesley Johnson add to an impressive collection on the bench. Pierce is their willey old veteran who will be important come playoff time, he will also play a lot of small ball four to mix and match their lineups. Stephenson has had big moments in the past and despite a horrific 2014-15, Lance is still a creative ball handler that can be their lockdown perimeter defender. Josh Smith brings more athleticism and the ability to stretch the floor and Johnson's acquisition adds another perimeter defender that they lacked last season.
This Clippers team has all the pieces and is just as good as any other NBA team in the league. Yet, people are still doubting them. For some reason, for NBA analysts and fans, it comes down to that they don't trust them. A lot of this doubt stems from last season's collapse against the Houston Rockets, arguably the biggest catastrophe in a single game in NBA history. The thing is, in that game and series, the Clippers didn't have a bench and were coming off a grueling 7 game series versus the San Antonio Spurs. The lack of the bench meant that they were exhausted for the Rockets' series and by the end of it, they were stuffed. Now with the bench I mentioned above, there is no way they lose that Rockets' series.
The Clippers are in the best possible position to mount their first serious title chase. There are really only four other teams in the NBA and the Clips matchup reasonably well with all of them.
Begining with the defending champs, the Clips always seem to go pound for pound with Golden State, as shown by Wednesday's late night fixture. Chris Paul and Steph Curry always seem to cancel each other out, as they are both so good. Draymond is usually able to contain Griffin, but the athleticism of DeAndre Jordan makes Andrew Bogut's life incredibly tough. Klay Thompson is better than Redick and due to his height, it isn't advisable that JJ should guard him for the whole game. But now with Lance Stephenson on the team, the Clippers' defense should be able to hold the second half of the splash brothers. Their benches are practically even and as a result, this series result is a toss up. If this is the case, we might have to look back to 2014, where the Clippers edged out the Warriors in a fun 7 game series. It might also come down to who gets homecourt.
San Antonio always find it incredibly difficult to defend the CP3 to Blake/DeAndre pick and rolls as they are just too athletic. The Spurs have the personnel to throw at CP3, with Kawhi and Danny Green both having turns at guarding him, but add in Jamal Crawford and new addition Paul Pierce and the Clippers become tougher to guard than ever. The Clippers' new found versatility of having both Josh Smith, Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson also makes life harder for the Spurs, especially if in a potential series, the Clippers would be able to pull the slow-footed Duncan or Aldridge away from the rim. The Clips have the added bonus that they have beaten them last season in that epic seven game showdown.
Oklahoma City are always a difficult proposition, but as I have mentioned several times, the Clips perimeter defense is improved and are in better shape than ever to be able to take away OKC's superstars; Durant and Westbrook. To add to this, LA have a better supporting cast, so I'd give Doc's Clips the edge in this series as well.
The final real West challenger is the Houston Rockets, ready to aggravate last season's game six demons. But as I explained, this Clippers team is deeper and won't suffer the same collapse as last year, as their starters won't have to play as many minutes, thus won't get as tired. Additionally, remember that this Clippers team were kicking the Rockets' butts in round 2 before the collapse. They actually had Austin Rivers running the point with CP3 out for the first couple of games, yet were still up 3-1. Clearly the Clips have an advantage over the Rockets in some capacity.
So are the Clips NBA Finals locks? Are they even second round locks? Absolutely no, but in my humble opinion, his squad has all the makings for a title run. They are as prepared as ever to win that championship.