I was looking forward to see the Spurs battle a contender even without Parker, Leonard and Splitter but the game was starting at 12:30 AM here and the last thing I wanted was to stay up late to watch a loss. Fortunately, the Spurs came through with arguably their best win of the season, which made it all worth it.
It's hard to say if it was caused by the players being rusty after the All-Star break or just plain old sloppiness but the first quarter was mired with turnovers. Neither team could stop coughing the ball up, which is the only reason the score was not higher with both squads shooting well above 50% from the field. The defenses were not able to assert themselves, as the Spurs used ball and player movement to make up for Parker's absence and the Clippers pushed the ball up court every time they could.
The second quarter started with both teams trotting out offensively-challenged bench units who had to labor for every point. Once the starters came back in, the fouls starting piling up and neither team could get in rhythm. Luckily the Spurs started playing better defense, led as always by Tim Duncan who wrestled control of the paint from DeAndre Jordan, at least for a while. But the Clippers kept running and the Spurs found no answers for Blake Griffin's ability to lead the break and finish.
The game remained close but after back-to-back threes by Griffin and Crawford, the Clippers carved out a six-point lead. The Spurs clamped down on D after that, allowing L.A. only three points in the last three minutes of the half. With Duncan as the focal point on both ends and Danny Green finding his outside shot, the Spurs went on a 14-3 run to go into the break up five, 56-51.
After trading buckets for a while, the Clippers were able to tie it around the six minute mark thanks mostly to the efforts of Jordan on defense and Griffin on offense. The Spurs wasted opportunities to pull away and it seemed like the temporarily dormant L.A. offense was about to explode after a Griffin breakaway dunk. Fortunately, the opposite happened. Just like at the end of the second quarter, the Clippers went ice-cold. With the game tied and 1:24 to go, the Spurs went on an 8-2 run, taking full advantage of the mediocre Clipper bench to go into the fourth quarter up six, 82-76.
Coming into the final period I feared that Chris Paul, who had been unusually quiet up until that point, was going to take over like he usually does. But it was Patty Mills who looked like the All-World point guard late in the game. Mills scored 11 consecutive points for the Spurs to start the quarter, single-handedly stretching the lead to 12. The Spurs withstood the Clippers' final push by making one tough bucket after another and hustling for every lose ball. Then Mills returned after a break and scored a contested three that served as a dagger. Manu did the rest by getting to the line and icing the impressive win on the road.
- When Patty Mills opted in on his player option this past off-season, fans were mostly divided into two groups: those who were mad he was eating into the Spurs' cap space and those who were glad to have a fan favorite back. No one could have rationally expected Mills to play as well as he has this year. He is not the most consistent of guys but his ability to put up points in a hurry has been huge for a Spurs team missing Manu Ginobili's and Tony Parker's shot creation for stretches.
- I think I've run out of things to say about Tim Duncan. Duncan was three assists shy of a triple double and was, for the most part, the Spurs focal point on offense. He struggled at times against DeAndre Jordan but Timmy played 37 minutes and contributed 19 points, 13 boards and seven assists while playing his usual brand of quietly effective defense. It's just amazing how good he still is. I'm hoping Pop gives him the SEGABABA off because he's earned some rest after carrying the Spurs the last few games.
- Ginobili had a great first game after his hamstring injury. The stats (nine points and three assists) don't do justice to the impact Manu had on the game. With Manu on the court the ball just moved better, as evidenced by his three secondary assists. Ginobili is on restricted minutes and will have to find a way to make his mark in short spurts. He did just that in L.A.
- All the starters played well. Belinelli, Diaw and Green combined for 46 points, 17 boards and eight assists and hit timely buckets when the Spurs needed them. Cory Joseph had a quiet game going by the box score but he hounded Chris Paul into a disastrous shooting night. Paul, who went 1-10 from field, was clearly hobbled but Joseph's effort should be noted nonetheless.
- The Spurs back-up bigs had a bad night. Ayres' hands looked as bad as they were to start the season and Matt Bonner and Aron Baynes didn't affect the game in their short stints. With Duncan likely resting tomorrow, let's hope they can fill in adequately.
- Shannon Brown gave the team 11 solid minutes in which he didn't do much except defend and hustle. He will probably be let go soon, as everyone starts to get healthy, but he hasn't been useless in his short time with the Spurs. That's all you can ask of guys on 10-day contracts.
- This was one terribly officiated game. There was no consistency with the calls, which ended up hurting both teams. The lowest point in a pretty dismal performance came when the refs gave the Spurs a ball that was clearly out off Danny Green. Just bad officiating all game long.
- Blake Griffin (35 points, 12 boards) and DeAndre Jordan (18 rebounds, six blocks) are a scary duo. They need to continue to improve, but they're well on their way. The Clippers simply need to upgrade their supporting cast, but they're definitely a contender.
- Just in case you don't know: NBA.com has recently made available box scores that include player tracking stats. Here is where you should go to find stats like field goal percentage on contested and uncontested shots, secondary assists, rebounding chances and more. It's pretty great.
On Wednesday, the Spurs will visit the Portland Trail Blazers on a SEGABABA. The Blazers will be without LaMarcus Aldridge, who is out with a strained left groin. But if history is any indication, it will be a tough game for the Spurs regardless of who suits up for either team.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the great Clips Nation