The San Antonio Spurs escaped The Staples Center with their 10th win in a row after defeating the Clippers in overtime. In a weird game that went down to the wire, the Spurs managed to overcome their own bad execution down the stretch by taking advantage of the Clippers' mistakes. Tony Parker scored a game-high 30 points while Gary Neal hit some clutch shots for the Spurs. Blake Griffin had 22 points and 20 boards for the Clippers, who almost rode a fantastic 4th quarter by Chris Paul to get the win, only to see a costly mistake by their point guard open the door for the Spurs, who seized the opportunity to get their 22nd win of the season and solidify their status as the second seed in the Western Conference. Quarter by quarter analysis after the jump.
To say that the Spurs started slow would be an understatement. The good guys went 0-8 to start the game and found themselves down by as much as 9 early. Richard Jefferson in particular didn't seem able to find his 3-point stroke missing 2 open corner shots. With the Spurs missing from 3 the Clips were able to pack the paint to prevent Parker's dribble penetration while still being able to close out aggressively on Bonner and the other shooters. On defense, the bigs struggled early against Blake Griffin. DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter didn't necessarily play bad D, but they found themselves on the wrong end of a couple questionable calls, which got them in foul trouble and resulted in a bigger doses of Matt Bonner on Griffin that would be desirable. Blake took advantage of the match-up scoring 10 1st quarter points. The Clippers dominated the 1st going into the 2nd with a 11 point lead. A couple of baskets by DeJuan Blair and a bucket and a delicious dime by Manu were the only bright spots for the Spurs, who suffered a significant blow by losing Splitter for the rest of the game to a calf strain.
It was clear that the Spurs were not going to keep struggling from the field the whole game and the Clippers were going to start missing some shots (regression to the mean and whatnot), but the drop-off was gradual. After a bad first quarter and beginning of the second in which he only attempted one filed goal, Tony Parker started playing like the dominating force he is. With the Clips playing solid pick and roll and help defense, Parker realized that if he was going to get himself going he was going to have to attack before the defense was set and he did just that. The aggressive defense from the Parker - Manu - Green - Leonard - Duncan lineup caused turnovers and bad long shots that provided the Wee Frenchman with opportunities to be the one man fast break we know he can be. For all the talk about how some players might relax with Manu back, we should worry more about them doing that with Parker. There's a lot of standing around and waiting for Tony to be the offense which could be problematic going forward with teams keying on him more, but it worked in this instance. Parker's counterpart, Chris Paul was silent for most of the 2nd quarter, struggling to shake the longer Green. The Spurs went into halftime up 2, 45-43.
In my notes from the first half I'd written that in order fir the Spurs to win the game, Parker needed to keep scoring and the role players needed to hit their shots, and that's pretty much what happened for the first half of the quarter. Pop started Bonner instead of Blair and the additional space Bonner creates just by being on the court helped open things up for Parker who had 8 points and 3 assists in the quarter. Green, Jefferson, Bonner and Neal all hit 3 pointers and the Spurs found themselves up by double digits. In an effort to rest Parker, who had been chasing Foye through screens while Green was on Paul, the team started going to Duncan on the block; Timmy struggled getting good looks and the ball movement basically stopped. The Clippers upped their defensive intensity and with an unreal stretch of play by the Awful-Player-Who-Kills-The-Spurs dujour, Randy Foye, they found themselves back in the game and with all the momentum going for them. Luckily, Gary Neal, who up until that point was not having a great game and was showing some hesitation shooting, buried a 3 that deflated the Clippers' spirits and stopped their run. The Spurs' small lineup that featured Blair as the only big and RJ at the 4 spot played well enough to keep things close and the good guys went into the 4th up 3, 70-67. Manu Ginobili, who played a little over 5 minutes in the third, would go on to miss the rest of the game due to a strained left oblique muscle.
Chris Paul awoke from 3 quarters of mediocre basketball and basically put the team on his back. The All-NBA PG was looking for his shot on the 4th just like our friend ClipperSteve predicted and was basically the offense for the Clippers finishing the quarter with 17 points but no assists. Fortunately for the Spurs they have an All-Star point guard of their own. Tony Parker scored 12 points during the period to go with 2 assists and basically matched Paul's amazing production. The game was close for the entire 4th quarter and it became clear that the team that executed better down the stretch was going to come away with this one. Unfortunately the Spurs struggled to close out the game like they had earlier in the season and made some silly mistakes. Richard Jefferson capped off a pretty terrible game by fouling Butler on a made 3 pointer and everyone not named Parker struggled to get going offensively. With the Clippers up by 1 after a couple Paul free throws, Tim Duncan missed the go-ahead layup with 12,6 to go. The Spurs fouled and got it back down 3 and with the chance to tie it. The inbound went to Gary Neal who turned it over. The Clippers were up by 3 and had the ball after Foye called a timeout, only needing to inbound and hit a couple free throws to win. They inbounded to Paul, who is one of the better ball-handlers in the league aside from a smart player and clutch free throw shooter. I have to say, after praising Neal's timely 3s, I'm dissapointed at how he handled himself on that last play. That turnover basically cost the Spurs the game. So that's it, folks. The Spurs' winning streak was stopped at 9 in Los Ang-HOLY CRAP! CHRIS PAUL TURNED IT OVER AND GAVE IT TO GARY NEAL NEAR THE 3-POINT LINE! GARY TOOK THE 3 AND MADE IT! YEAH WE ARE GOING TO OVER TIME BABY! I NEVER DOUBTED YOU GARY, YOU CLUTCH M11R, YOU.
Hmm mm, sorry about that. On with the recap. The OT started with both teams struggling to score on their first couple of possessions until Chris Paul hit a pair of free throws for the Clippers. Both teams upped their defensive intensity during the period even on tired legs, but the Spurs managed to out-hustle the Clips and Danny Green and especially Tim Duncan secured a few offensive boards that got the team extra possessions that would go on to be key. On defense the Spurs sent an extra defender to the strong side of the play to prevent Griffin from posting up and were fast to recover when the ball was swung around. Bonner hit a 3 off a Parker feed and Blake Griffin went 1-2 form the line to tie the game at 98. The Clippers defended well on the next possession but Gary Neal, in all of his clutch glory, hit a 3 with the clock winding down to give the Spurs a 3 point lead, 101-98 with 25.4 seconds to go. After the timeout, Chris Paul missed a layup that Richard Jefferson rebounded and passed to Parker, who was fouled. Tony hit both free throws and the Spurs went ahead by 5 with 14,9 seconds to go. Griffin got the lead back to 3 with a dunk and almost got fouled by Green in the process. The Spurs quickly inbounded the ball to Neal, who received Blake's 6th foul. With 8 seconds to go, Gary Neal unexpectedly bricked both free throws, giving the Clippers the chance to tie the game. Fortunately Chris Paul missed after a solid defensive effort by Kawhi Leonard, marking the end of one of the weirdest games I ever had the pleasure to watch. Both teams had double-digit leads, both teams made stupid mistakes in the most inopportune moments but only one had Tony Parker and Gary Neal and that team took the W.
I'm going to keep these short, since this recap is running pretty long already.
- Kawhi Leonard played some PF tonight after Splitter's injury and he did it well.
Kawhibunga could be a match-up nightmare in that spot if he develops a 3-point shot.
- Matt Bonner continues a stretch of good play, scoring 13 on 3-6 from 3, while rebounding and defending really well by his standards.
- If Splitter is going to be out for a while, the Spurs will have to sign someone to take his spot. How long he's out will determine if the Spurs go for a veteran free agent or sign a D-League guy on a couple 10-day contracts.
- Manu also got injured, but the Spurs have proved that they are deep enough at the guard spots. It still sucks that Manu is injured yet again.
- Blair and especially Jefferson didn't have the best of games but since we won I'll take it easy on them.
- The guards have to do a better job rebounding the ball, especially on long misses that produce long rebounds. Other than Green (4), no guard or wing got more than 3 boards.
- The Clippers are a good team, but without Foye going all Dragic/Beaubois on us tonight, the game would have been over before Paul could take over in the 4th. They have talented players but they don't scare me that much looking at a potential Western Conference semifinals. Still a lot of basketball to be played, though.
Honorary star: Chris Paul. His assist to Neal to tie the game was fantastic. Thanks Chris.
3 - Tim Duncan. 11 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assist and 2 blocked shots.
Timmy didn't shoot well from the field (5-14) or the free throw line (1-4) but contributed in other areas. His excellent work on the glass was the only reason the Spurs didn't lose the rebounding battle by more than 11.
2 - Gary Neal. 17 points on 14 shots (5-8 from 3), 3 rebound and 3 steals.
Neal's numbers are solid but what he contributed to the team tonight is hard for a box score to measure. With only Parker stepping up on offense and Manu sidelined, it was up to The Nail to be the secondary scorer and he delivered. His timely 3s killed the Clippers momentum on the third quarter and on the OT and without his game-tying 3 the Spurs wouldn't have gotten the W.
1 - Tony Parker. 30 points on 22 shots, 10 assists and only 2 turnovers.
Everything that can be said about Tony's play this season has already been said by Spurs fans. While there will still be people that will talk about how clutch Chris Paul was on the 4th, Tony Parker was clearly the best point guard in this game. If Manu is going to miss time again, we'll need Tony to continue to produce at this level and something tells me he will deliver.
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Up next, the Utah Jazz on Monday. The Spurs travel to Salt Lake City to try to keep their streak alive on the 7th game of the Rodeo Road Trip.