By Jeff McDonald
The Spurs arrived at their practice facility Sunday afternoon — for their third workout in six days with no game — to find they had drawn the opponent they had most desired in the Western Conference semifinals.
“You can’t prepare for nobody,” guard Manu Ginobili said.
As far as the Spurs were concerned, the Los Angeles Clippers became their next somebody with a gritty Game 7 victory in Memphis, which finally cemented a second-round opponent beginning Tuesday at the ATT Center.
When the top-seeded Spurs hit the floor for the first time since finishing off Utah last Monday, Chris Paul and the Clippers — and not Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies — will be the team awaiting them.
For the Spurs, who had been going stir crazy scrimmaging each other in their own practice gym, the “who” is less important than the “finally.”
“It drives you a little crazy preparing for two teams at once,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “One day, you think somebody’s going to win, then it changes. It went back and forth. At least now we know who we’re playing.”
In a well-coined phrase, made for T-Shirts: It’s Lob City.
In Paul and Blake Griffin, the KIA-hopping dunk-machine, the fifth-seeded Clippers come with more star power — and, perhaps, more firepower — than did the Jazz.
Widely considered the NBA’s premier point guard, the 27-year-old Paul averaged 20.4 points and 7.1 assists in the Memphis series. By force of will, he lifted the Clippers past a team that at times seemed vastly superior.
The Spurs are familiar with this playoff version of Paul. Then with New Orleans, he pushed the Spurs to seven games in the 2008 conference finals.
“He’s one of those players, you know he’s not going to give up,” Ginobili said.
Popovich described Paul in terms even more glowing: “He’s a future Hall of Famer.”
The presence of an almost-certain lock for Springfield is one thing that separates the Spurs’ next opponent from its last.
Another difference between the Clippers and Jazz: The Clippers have a few players who can shoot from outside 8 feet.
Case in point is Mo Williams, the reserve guard who torched the Spurs for 33 points — and made 7 of 9 3-pointers — in a 120-108 Clippers victory at the ATT Center in March.
“They’re very different,” said Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who averaged a team-best 21 points in the first round. “They’re more transition, fast breaks, lobs.
“Utah, everything was in the paint. They didn’t have a lot of shooters. The Clippers have some good shooters, so it’s a lot different.”
The Spurs’ strategy in the Utah series was to leave the Jazz shooters alone to clank all but 20 percent of their 3-point tries and use extra defenders to double-team the post.
The Clippers’ abundance of 3-point threats — which includes guard Randy Foye and recently acquired wing Nick Young — might make it more difficult for the Spurs to get away with that approach.
“You can’t help as much as we did against the Jazz,” Ginobili said.
The Spurs, meanwhile, will have to hope an eight-day layoff between series doesn’t rust over the well-oiled machine that has produced 14 consecutive victories.
They will approach the Clippers with a steady diet of Parker pick-and-rolls, lockstep team defense and slick offensive execution that got them this far this fast.
Or, as former Spurs great David Robinson framed the matchup on his Twitter feed Sunday afternoon: “Lob City vs. Fundamental City.”
After an extended, nerve-rattling break, the citizens of Fundamental City are just happy to have another game to play and another opponent to scout.
“The uncertainty is not always good,” Ginobili said. “At this point of the season, you want to know what you’re going to face.”
At long last, at least, the Spurs know.
SPURS VS. CLIPPERS
Game 1: Tuesday, @Spurs, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Game 2: Thursday, @Spurs, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: Saturday, @Clippers, 2:30 p.m., ABC
Game 4: Sunday, @Clippers, 9:30 p.m., TNT
* Game 5: May 22, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* Game 6: May 25, @Clippers, TBA, ESPN
* Game 7: May 27, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* If necessary